Medical College of Georgia students step up to help during pandemic

Laptop, woman with mask

The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University had almost 200 students, faculty and staff from across Georgia participate in the inaugural Pandemic Medicine online class Monday morning.

“Our students are (as always) amazing!” said Dr. D. Douglas Miller, the college’s vice dean for academic affairs. “Four of our MCG students did the first lecture today. Our student leadership have been part of the daily MCG COVID-19 Task Force WebEx meetings, attending virtual Curriculum Committee meetings, organizing collection drives for PPE for the health system.

“They are all making great contributions and communicating regularly with their classes. These efforts (and others) remind us that we gather a medical school faculty together every year to teach our students to become the best doctors that they can be — for their patients and for society at large.”

Changing the curriculum

Shruti Gupta is a third-year medical student and has been rotating on the Southeast Campus in Savannah, Georgia. Before clinical rotations were shut down in accordance with the Association of American Medical Colleges, she was working in Jesup, Georgia, and saw how overwhelmed the medical system was starting to get. She began brainstorming ideas of how to help.

“We wanted to help but we didn’t know how,” Gupta said. “I gathered information from friends at other medical schools and classmates, and came up with about 15 different project ideas to propose to faculty here at MCG to support. I worked with Dr. Kimberly Loomer and Dr. Kathryn Martin, in particular, to come up with a few major approved student activities and MCG’s policy on which activities we could safely pursue. A colleague, Yutong Dong, and I worked with faculty to then incorporate it into the pandemic elective curriculum.

“Meanwhile, Susan Brands, our class president, had begun mobilizing our class by starting a fundraiser for care packages for health care providers as well as collecting health care supplies from the community for Augusta University Medical Center. As other classmates got involved, the projects naturally grew.”

Miller said the MCG students are “incredibly dedicated, resourceful and ingenious.” He said they are using technology effectively, helping build the geospatial map that tracks their locations across Georgia with the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in their communities.

“We admit students to MCG who have demonstrated their willingness to serve their communities, and this is a big part of the MCG culture which we and they share,” he said.

Students working with faculty

Brands, also a third-year medical student, said the idea to help during the pandemic was a joint decision, which is what makes it so powerful.

“On one hand, I had student feedback pouring in asking for ways they could help as the count of COVID-19 cases rose in Georgia,” Brands said. “On the other, I was meeting with administration and hearing their ideas for pursuits such as this pandemic medicine elective. The elective is a great compromise because it is essentially a way to take all of that student energy, organize it in one place, train the students in ways they can safely and effectively contribute to the health care need, and then ideally put us to work.

“In some ways this will act as a ‘jumpstart’ to our medical careers, as we’re getting involved in medicine in a way we never anticipated as third-year medical students,” Brands added. “While we are initially focusing primarily on telemedicine given the restraints on physical patient contact from the AAMC, both students and administrators are coming up with unique ways of getting medical students involved.”

Brands said when the ideas were presented to the administration, they were coming up with ways to get help but at the same time get course credit. She said as a student leader, she has been “blown away by the ideas my classmates have come up with.”

“I have been so humbled since the first day of my medical career to be surrounded by this incredible, diverse, passionate group of people, and seeing them all come together and rising to this occasion has been so inspiring to watch,” she said. “This experience has just further emphasized how proud I am to be amongst such an incredible group of future physicians.”

Showing true grit

Both Gupta and Brands said the experience so far has been both overwhelming and exhilarating.

Gupta said when she was a first-year medical student, her MSP project was on pandemic preparedness at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. She said she supported the efforts to increase the global capacity to deal with the next pandemic after the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic devastated the world.

“Little did I know back then, that information would come in handy so quickly.”

For Gupta, battling this current pandemic has a personal meaning for her as well. She is back in Macon, Georgia, with her family right now after her father, who is a physician, found out he was exposed to a positive patient a week after the patient showed up to the hospital in severe condition.

“He exposed my mother and I at home as well,” she said. “Had he had the PPE he needed, or had telemedicine services been in place already, this would not have happened. That is why the services we are supporting are important.”

Miller said just being “around” the students is helping raise the morale of the faculty and staff in the wake of the great stress being put on the hospitals and clinics right now.

“We choose MCG students (in part) for their ‘grit,’ and we foster this in their training,” he said. “They are also part of our collective wellness, as we all try to communicate our fears and have our many questions answered … the students are often those asking the best questions.

“Augusta is and will remain a great home base for Georgia’s statewide public medical school. MCG is doing everything it can to support the Augusta community, and we also feel the support from that community for what we are doing in a difficult time. In times like this, ‘We hang together or we fall apart.’

“MCG will always be here.”

A GoFundMe page has been created as a fundraiser for medical supplies. Also, medical students at MCG are looking for extra masks, gloves, goggles and respirators available for donation. If you have any extra equipment, email to organize drop-off or pick-up.

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Miguelangelo Hernandez
Written by
Miguelangelo Hernandez

Miguelangelo Hernandez is a senior communications and media coordinator at Augusta University. He covers College of Allied Health Sciences, College of Nursing, The Dental College of Georgia, College of Science and Mathematics and Augusta University Athletics. You can reach him at mighernandez@augusta.edu or (706) 993-6411.

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Miguelangelo Hernandez Written by Miguelangelo Hernandez

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University and AU Health. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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