Another Door Opens: Helping Out During COVID-19

With Clinical Rotations Suspended, Med Students Volunteer to Test for Coronavirus

April 07, 2020
TouroCOM students volunteer at New Bridge testing site

When Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) Harlem student Daniel Brady (OMM IV), received an e-mail from Dean David Forstein, DO, asking third- and fourth-year students if they would be interested in volunteering to screen for the coronavirus, Brady didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Touro students are actively engaged in volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic. Many who had their routines interrupted with the suspension of clinical rotations are finding rewarding new ways to be helpful - something that, after all, they are trained to do.  

Five days after Brady received the dean’s e-mail, New York’s new “Stay-at-Home” law would go into effect, limiting outdoor activities to essentials and requiring New Yorkers to practice social distancing by staying six feet away from one another when out. Already taking classes remotely from home, Brady’s rotations were now suspended along with those of his classmates.

“I wanted to be helpful”

Brady decided to step up. “I wanted to be helpful,” he recalls, admitting it would also get him out on weekends. “I get to stand outside.”

The testing site opened on March 29 at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in New Jersey. Testing is offered seven days a week to county residents or employees of Bergen healthcare providers or first responders. Patients must have symptoms and a doctor's order, or a telehealth visit with a Center doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant.  According to Bergen New Bridge COO Aaron Hajart, the site is doing 100-150 tests a day, and has done over 1,000 tests. The results range from 62 to 82 percent positive.  

Testing is done in teams of three volunteers. As a fourth-year medical student, Brady swabs, which involves gliding a long Q-tip-like swab through the nose to the back of the throat, where viruses often lurk. He also acts as a swabbing "buddy", responsible for sample preparation, scene safety, and expediting.

Aspiring ER DOC

Julia Kang, OMS III, had her first day at the site on April 6. “We went to medical school because we wanted to be clinicians,” she said. “I felt the need to be involved in some way. This was my chosen profession.”

Kang said she’s always wanted to become an ER physician. She worked as a scribe in the ER at Richmond University Medical Center before medical school and liked the fast-paced environment. “Knowing you’ve helped someone right then and there can make a difference,” she said.

As a third-year student at the test site, Kang mostly worked as a “processor” – helping to prepare sample kits, making sure patients’ information matched their IDs, and giving kits to the buddy for collection. She found the job rewarding. “It went really smoothly. It was a good flow,” said Kang. She felt the students’ efforts were appreciated by the patients, many of whom were hospital workers, police officers and fire fighters. “A police officer said, ‘To me, you guys are my heroes!’ It was very sweet.”

At least ten TouroCOM Harlem students are volunteering at New Bridge, and Hajart is full of gratitude for their contributions. “They have been a tremendous help. They are fearless, dedicated and willing to do virtually any task. Their broad knowledge has been helpful, but their attitude has been by far their best asset,” Hajart praised.