May 7, 2020

COVID-19 response: UCalgary med students with time to spare give back to their teachers and mentors

With an abundance of compassion and pragmatism, small army helps with childcare and other duties

Frontline. Health-care. Workers. Never before have those three words been uttered with such frequency or reverence by so many people in this city and around the world. While nurses, doctors, unit clerks, porters, respiratory therapists and myriad other medical staff tend to humbly respond to praise with, “I’m just doing my job,” the world is right in recognizing that thousands of individuals are going far beyond what is normally required or expected of them. 

Domestic life, meanwhile — also newly challenging ­— waits for no one: kids need care; pets needs walking; meals need making.

Enter a mighty army of young people from the Cumming School of Medicine. Led by friends and classmates Moss Bruton Joe and Brielle Cram, upwards of 100 medical, nursing and other students are stepping up to serve their teachers and mentors.

Brielle Cram and Moss Bruton Joe, two UCalgary medicine students volunteering to aid frontline healthcare workers.

Brielle Cram, left, and Moss Bruton Joe spearheaded an initiative that connects UCalgary medical students with frontline health-care workers.

Bruton Joe is set to graduate in November, with plans to pursue internal medicine. Right now, she should be spending several hours a week in hospital for the remaining portion of her clinical learning. In the ongoing wake of COVID, the Cumming School has postponed all such training. For Bruton Joe and Cram, that shift immediately illuminated a path to helping hospital staff in a time of need.

“We got the idea from students at the University of Western Ontario,” says Bruton Joe, who quickly pulled together a committee of six volunteers, including herself and Cram, to partner willing students with hospital workers in critical need of help at home.

We were really eager to help these people because they are our mentors and teachers, and they’ve held our hands and given us so much.

So far, 70 students from the Cumming School have been matched with families requiring of experienced childcare and other duties. (Moss is quick to point out that she and all the volunteers strictly follow public health guidelines while on, and off, duty.)

Four times a week, Bruton Joe walks a dog belonging to a resident at the Foothills. One of her classmates babysits two elementary-school-aged children overnight for a physician on the frontline who sometimes works night shifts.

“This initiative is so important as it’s increasingly difficult to find overnight help during these times,” says Bruton Joe. “That classmate works one or two nights weekly, and also helps during the day with homeschooling and keeping the children active with sports and games outdoors.” 

Another student looks after two preschool-aged kids for a nurse, four-and-half-days a week. Moss, clearly proud of her empathetic cohort, says her classmate “helps with meals, invents games, and sings and re-enacts scenes to Frozen with the children.”

Remarkably, there are currently more volunteers than there are gigs. “We have 40 students who really want to help but we don’t have a place for them yet,” says Bruton Joe. She and Cram are working with Alberta Health Services to identify health-care workers currently in isolation who need help with grocery shopping and other essential errands.

If this is the future of health care, we’re in kind and capable hands.