When the pandemic forced our medical schools to stop in-class learning and direct patient care activities, we realized that as students we were in a unique position to provide essential services for local healthcare workers. So eight of us from three different med schools–GWU, Georgetown and Howard–came together and set up a website called DC COVID Sitters. We match undergraduate, graduate, and healthcare students with healthcare workers who are need of help with childcare, pet care, or errands…but who may have fewer financial resources.
This idea is not unique to us…there have been examples all over the country of students mobilizing to help with COVID-19 relief. This whole thing has been a collaborative effort. A group in Minnesota helped us get off the ground and gave us a lot of advice to get moving quickly. The interesting thing is…the eight of us who started the group have never met in person–only by Zoom.
Healthcare workers go onto the website and fill out applications with their information and specific needs. An anonymous profile is then posted on the website with a map that shows their geographic location. The students go on, create a profile, and then apply directly to the family. On the back end, those of us on the leadership team go through and just make sure that people are who they say they are and we have people submit a copy of their hospital I.D.
We also make sure they have read through all of the information and that we are matching people appropriately. For example, we’re not going to put someone with a cat allergy in a home where there is a cat. We don’t go so far as to do background checks, and we are upfront about that on our website. All of the healthcare students have background checks done by their school, and initially, we had restricted it to those students. However, it’s now open to all students and we just encourage families to talk about that with the students that they are paired with.
We originally had 180 students sign up and as of today we have matched about 30 families with students. Most of those have been healthcare students.
It was encouraging to see how many students came out to help and was so affirming that we are here for the right reasons. Most people really want to do good and are eager and willing to put themselves out there and volunteer with families that they may not know just to ease their burden. It’s so warming and comforting to see people respond in that way.
Outside of the pandemic, even though we are all living in D.C., it can be really hard to coordinate between the three med schools, because our lives are busy and our schedules are so different. The recognition that this was such an unprecedented time and that our healthcare colleagues who are in the hospitals needed help drove us to work together as never before. People have been so willing to step up and go out of their comfort zones to make sure that everyone is cared for.
We’ve learned in this process that collaboration can occur at the drop of a dime. We all have very different schedules and are in completely different units in school but have come together and made it work in such a short amount of time.
Our advice to others who might be thinking of doing something like this is to never limit yourselves. It was a pretty big undertaking for us to try to organize something like DC COVID Sitters on such a massive scale–but we’re doing it, so it’s possible. We realize now that we don’t have to wait until we’re professionals to do something of this magnitude.
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