UCI News

Freeing up front-line physicians

First-year medical students form volunteer coalition to babysit, shop and run errands for UCI healthcare workers

by Eliza Partika, UCI | April 22, 2020
Freeing up front-line physicians
First-year medical student Emily Tom – a member of the volunteer coalition organized by first-year medical student Austin Franklin – walks a UCI Medical Center staff member’s dog. Courtesy of Austin Franklin

Austin Franklin, a first-year medical student at UCI, began organizing volunteers in March to help meet the daily needs of UCI Health medical professionals caring for COVID-19 patients. The idea came to him after he heard of students at UC San Francisco and the University of Washington offering support services to busy university-affiliated healthcare providers.

Building a volunteer coalition seemed to be the best way for Franklin and his cohort – comprising 141 UCI medical students and undergraduates as well as students from Western University of Health Sciences – to give back. Two third-year medical students, Justine Chinn and Jamie Collins, solicited requests from UCI Health physicians, nurses and other caregivers and matched them with volunteers.

The most immediate need was for childcare assistance, but the effort has grown to also include grocery shopping, pet sitting, tutoring and running miscellaneous errands.

First-year medical student Caroline Nore volunteered because she wanted to support healthcare professionals in a tangible way. She began by providing childcare for a UCI physician who lives in Irvine and whose spouse was working from home. Their two elementary school-age children were transitioning to online learning and needed help navigating their computers and accessing assignments. Nore also kept the youngsters entertained, playing soccer and board games, until their parents’ workdays were over.

Now she volunteers for the food bank at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, regularly donates blood and plans to assist in donation drives for personal protective equipment.

“I don’t yet have the clinical skills and knowledge to be very useful in the hospital, but I still wanted to have a hand in supporting our healthcare workers,” Nore says. “I went into medicine knowing that I was making a commitment to being on the front line of epidemics and fighting disease. Volunteering my time to assist our medical professionals at home felt like a good way to give back and be of use.”

Medical school lab professors have chosen to focus their now all-digital instruction on pandemic preparedness. “This makes classes more interesting and motivates us to help those in need,” Franklin says.

“And with online learning, my classmates and I have more freedom to participate in efforts to fight the pandemic,” Nore notes.

Healthcare workers at UCI Health have voiced their appreciation through social media.

  • “The students’ actions and reactions represent all the reasons we went into medicine. To help when most needed.”
  • “Inspiring and touching and exactly the spirit that will help us all get through these times – kudos to our wonderful students!”
  • “Thank you! This was huge for us. We are all having pretty chaotic and unpleasant days both at work and in the world right now. And this was a ray of sunshine on an otherwise pretty gloomy day. Made my day. Lots of other faculty and staff too. Speaks volumes about the students at this school.”
  • “I’ve always been proud of our students, but I literally welled up with tears to see what you had all put together. I can’t begin to tell you just how much even the gesture means during this time. I’m so incredibly proud of and grateful for all of you.”