“During the start of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, our medical students were sidelined by shelter-at-home mandates set by the state. But they were eager to help in any way they could.” — Annette C. Reboli, MD
Embracing Cooper’s mission of community service, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) student volunteers made a major impact on efforts to vaccinate employees and community members.
“During the start of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, our medical students were sidelined by shelter-at-home mandates set by the state,” says Annette C. Reboli, MD, Dean of CMSRU. “But they were eager to help in any way they could.”
One of their most notable efforts was the development of Criti-Call.
During the spring of 2020, fourth-year students participated remotely in clinical rounds for critically ill patients who were being treated for COVID-19 in the Cooper ICU. These students served as liaisons between critical care staff and patients’ families, providing updates and answering questions. However, once COVID-19 vaccines became available, opportunities for volunteer service became ample and focused primarily on getting shots in arms.
“When I heard about the rollout of vaccines, I very much wanted to get the students at CMSRU involved,” says Dr. Reboli, an infectious disease specialist who was involved in the COVID-19 response at the state level. “I thought it would give them a tremendous opportunity to serve the community and gain valuable insight into how you set up this type of mass public health activity.”
Dr. Reboli enlisted the help of student leaders in gauging the interest of their classmates and organizing volunteers.
Lauren Burgoon, MD, a fourth-year student at the time, was one of the key leaders of CMSRU’s COVID-19 activities. “What we found was that an overwhelming number of medical students wanted to get involved with the vaccination clinics,” says Dr. Burgoon.
Burgoon and her classmates formed the CMSRU COVID-19-Associated Response Effort (CARE). The team organized the effort into eight roles that ranged from greeting patients to performing data entry to administering vaccinations. Students were trained by Cooper staff and supervised by nursing leaders and physicians.
“We were able to incorporate post-baccalaureate students and premed students into the CARE team, along with current medical students,” says Dr. Burgoon. “It was a great opportunity because students—especially first- and second-year students—were learning skills they wouldn’t usually get that early in their education.”
The group began vaccinating Cooper employees on December 26, 2020. Later, they extended their efforts to community vaccination sites at the Kroc Center in Camden and other locations, helping to fulfill the shared desire of Cooper and CMSRU to address equity in vaccinations—particularly in medically underserved communities.
For the medical students, the COVID-19 pandemic provided important and unique learning opportunities.
“When you’re a student at any time, but especially during a pandemic, you are always wishing you could do more,” adds Dr. Burgoon. “We see our mentors and our residents doing more because they are further along in their education. Students wanted to do everything they could.”
Dr. Reboli was not surprised by the overwhelming popularity of the CMSRU CARE program and the service work that the medical students performed throughout the pandemic.
“CMSRU is a mission-driven school that values servant leadership. Commitment to the community we serve is one of our core values,” explains Dr. Reboli. “When we review applications, we look not only for academic excellence but also for a strong history of community service. Those are the kinds of students who will excel at this medical school.”
At last count, in late August, over 300 students (about 75% of those enrolled) had volunteered more than 8,000 hours and vaccinated almost 100,000 people.
“I picked CMSRU for its mission of service, and I saw it acted out here during the pandemic,” says Dr. Burgoon. “When administration turned the medical student volunteer effort over to us and said, ‘Make it work,’ it gave me the opportunity to take everything I’ve learned over the past few years and put it into action.”
Annette C. Reboli, MD
Cooper Medical School
of Rowan University
Lauren Burgoon, MD
Cooper Medical School
of Rowan University