When the novel coronavirus arrived at MCG’s home base in Augusta in mid-March, medical students were immediately removed from clinical settings in Augusta and across the state.
The University System of Georgia announced March 17 that spring semester classes for all state colleges and universities would be finished online.
Faced with an unprecedented public health crisis and an unparalleled challenge to providing medical education, the state’s public medical school quickly created a pandemic medicine course that mobilized statewide faculty and saw nearly 400 third- and fourth-year MCG students fan out to support public health departments and hospital systems across Georgia.
“As the state’s public medical school, it was MCG’s responsibility to lead the way in assisting with the statewide response to COVID-19,” says MCG Dean, Dr. David Hess. “Our extensive, 15-year-old regional campus network, more than 2,500 volunteer faculty, multiple hospital partnerships and students already learning in every corner of our state all naturally positioned the medical school to take the lead in helping address this statewide public health crisis. MCG’s vast educational network was indispensable to the state during this pandemic.”
The interactive elective designed by both MCG and AU administrators, as well as Georgia’s public health district directors, saw medical students working in the field, on phone banks in public health call centers for example; performing epidemiological tracking of coronavirus cases; and supporting drive-through testing centers – all where they were needed most. Students received online pandemic medicine training before going into the field.
The medical school’s academic leadership worked with partners through MCG’s statewide educational network – with campuses based in Augusta, Athens, Albany, Rome, Savannah and Brunswick – to deploy students to every public health district in Georgia.
“Our students are Georgians – 95% of each class comes from our state,” says Dr. D. Douglas Miller, MCG vice dean for academic affairs. “They are training to become physicians and some of them were only months away from being MDs. They were and still are personally and deeply committed to being part of their state’s response to this pandemic.”
“When we started our medical school careers, we swore an oath dedicating ourselves to be pillars of our communities and to always place the needs of the patients and community at large above all else,” says fourth-year MCG class president Susan Brands. “This a need beyond anything we have experienced so far in our professional careers. I am grateful to be at a school where our administration had enough trust in their students to involve us through this pandemic medicine course, as well as an administration that prioritized the needs of our communities statewide.”
MCG students found additional ways to offer support.
Students, some featured here, refocused their efforts on what they could do to help physicians, nurses and other frontline workers, not just in Augusta, but across the state.
- They raised nearly $15,000 to buy masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, face shields and supplies for care packages like candy and snacks.
- They helped the less fortunate when other social services were closed.
- They learned to sew handmade masks that fit over N95 masks to help them last longer and delivered them to health care facilities all over the state.
- They helped train volunteers across the state.
Quinn Peragine, a fourth-year student at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership in Athens, worked with the Athens Community Council on Aging to coordinate Buddy Calls to area senior citizens who are homebound and socially isolated during the pandemic. The program, which works in conjunction with Meals on Wheels, the Center for Active Living and Adult Day Health, saw 20 students from the Partnership Campus paired with one or two area senior citizens each for twice-weekly check-ins by phone.
Third-year student Natalie Bertrand received a grant which allowed her to pay local businesses to package individually wrapped meals for the homeless, allowing local businesses to continue to have some income and providing the homeless in the area some access to food when shelters/soup kitchens were closed.
With the shelter-in-place order, they also partnered with a nonprofit to deliver the food when they could no longer deliver it themselves.
“80 meals, once a week is not a huge impact but I hope this will help tide some people over until soup kitchens and other non-profits are able to open up again,” Natalie said at the time.
Fourth-year student John Latremouille delivered a negative pressure intubation chamber that he helped build to the MCG Department of Anesthesiology. He worked with Augusta mechanical engineer George McCall to help build and donate the chambers to area hospitals.
The acrylic chambers enable health care providers to see the airway while maintaining a physical barrier between them and a patient during procedures like intubation and extubation. The original concept was developed by Dr. Lai Hsieng-Yung, a Taiwanese anesthesiologist who released schematics and instructions for his “Aerosol Box” to offer additional protection when treating patients with COVID-19.
Dr. Rebecca DeCarlo, ’20, now a first-year neurosurgery resident at Carolinas Medical Center and Atrium Health in Charlotte, was a student at MCG’s Southeast Campus in Savannah/Brunswick and worked with the Coastal Georgia Health District to assist with their contact tracing efforts. She and her fellow volunteers often made 100 calls a day to the community, regarding quarantine protocols and answering questions.
She also worked with other medical students to develop a training manual detailing how contact tracing had been developed in the Coastal Georgia Health District. That manual was designed to be adapted for use in public health districts across the state.
DeCarlo was honored at a White House Commencement Ceremony in May, one of only 20 students, and the only medical student, nationwide to be recognized for their part in the country’s COVID-19 response.
Fourth-year student Sonal Dugar wrote and illustrated April Showers, a book aimed at helping people of all ages, but mostly children, reflect on tough situations and the range of emotions they often bring.
“This pandemic has had a large global impact and has given everyone a lot to reflect on. I hope this book brings some comfort and helps shine some light on the situation in a manner that is approachable to all ages,” she says.