News: Medical students helping efforts to supply protective gear

Photo courtesy of Janet Dang, captured on March 18, 2020. Note, this photo was taken in advance of official physical distancing guidelines. Students and volunteers are adhering to all guidelines.
By Emily Leighton, MA'13

Medical students at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry are helping a local effort to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to primary care teams across the London region.

Family doctors and medical clinics are facing a shortage of masks, gloves, gowns and face shields - protection that is needed as the number of COVID-19 cases mount. 

Co-ordinated by the London Middlesex Primary Care Alliance, a group of primary care providers, the grassroots initiative works with individuals and businesses, such as veterinary clinics, podiatrists and spas, to collect and donate unused supplies. As many businesses are closed or offering limited services during the pandemic, organizers say this is a practical way to address the shortage for frontline workers.  

Third-year medical students Meera Shah, Adrina Zhong and Matthew Fung are part of the organizing team, collecting PPE equipment from community donors, creating an inventory of the supplies and helping deliver them based on the need among local primary care teams.

“Family doctors are the backbone of our health care system,” said Zhong. “They need our support now more than ever.” 

The students are also helping put together wellness packages for physicians and their teams, to boost motivation and morale. What started as thank you cards and chocolates has now grown to include snacks, juice boxes and other goodies.

The community response to the initiative has been phenomenal. In the first three days of operations, the team successfully delivered supplies to 21 physicians and their offices, with many requests pending. To date, they have received 14 donations from the community.

“Thanks to all the amazing local businesses and individuals who have stepped up, donated your PPE supplies and volunteered to support primary care physicians,” tweeted lead organizer Janet Dang, transformation lead with the London Middlesex Primary Care Alliance.

Shah says she’s also received messages from colleagues at other Ontario medical schools looking for ways to begin similar initiatives in their communities.

As clerks, clinical training has been paused for Shah, Zong and Fung, which prompted them to look for other ways to help. “It’s not easy watching our colleagues struggle with the increasing demand,” said Zhong. “Like us, many clerks have turned to volunteering, as we are no longer able to be part of the frontline care team.” 

“We’re just happy to help and support physicians in their commitment to patient care,” added Shah. 

The initiative is evolving and expanding on a daily basis. The organizing team is now looking at ways to help hospitals and assessment centres with PPE and other equipment.

“We are getting a lot of community traction,” said Shah. “Health care is always about the team effort and this project is a prime example of why a good community team is so important,”

To donate PPE supplies and/or support this initiative, contact Janet Dang at Janet is located at the Thames Valley Family Health Team support office in Hyde Park.