U of A medical students offering emergency child care to physicians and front-line health workers

More than 150 doctors and health-care workers have signed up for service offered by third- and fourth-year students temporarily pulled from clinical rotations.


U of A medical students are volunteering to provide emergency child care for doctors and other health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The students are taking precautions to ensure they're following recommended public health practices with the families they're helping. (Photo: Getty Images)

Medical students at the University of Alberta are banding together to keep front-line health-care workers on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 100 students are providing volunteer emergency child care for physicians and other critical health-care workers after the province announced an indefinite closure of Alberta schools to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"I've been so impressed by just how quickly (people have stepped up) and how vocal students have been about wanting to help," said Jillian Schneider, a fourth-year medical student at the U of A who is helping organize the initiative.

Already more than 150 physicians and other health-care workers have signed up for the emergency child-care service after the indefinite closure of schools on March 13.

The majority of volunteers are third- and fourth-year medical students who have been temporarily pulled from clinical rotations as the medical school reassesses how to safely continue their education during the pandemic. The emergency service is being offered until March 27, when the students may be reassigned to clinical duties. First- and second-year students are also helping where possible, but have greater limits on their time as they must now keep up with all of their classes online.

"We all feel a duty to support our communities as much as possible," said Schneider. "And just because we can't be on the wards doing admissions and seeing patients doesn't mean we can't offer our time and support to give our front-line health-care workers the help they need right now."

Medical students at universities in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and many others have launched similar initiatives. Student leaders are sharing resources, troubleshooting problems together and discussing questions that arise in real time.

While the medical students are organizing to help, they're trying to do it in a way that keeps both them and the families they are supporting safe. The groups are taking precautions that include restricting matches to one student per family, and reinforcing hand hygiene and other good practices with the families they are helping. They will discontinue the service if either the student or family members are exposed to COVID-19 or develop symptoms. They are also consulting with public health workers to ensure they are taking all appropriate precautions to prevent transmission, and the group is continually assessing safety.

Schneider said students from nursing and dentistry are also beginning to organize to offer additional help, and University of Calgary medical students who are back in Edmonton for spring break are bolstering efforts.

Many more students are also hoping to volunteer in other support roles during the pandemic. Volunteers are seeking approval from health officials to help in staffing 811 phone lines, and in identifying and tracing people who may have come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. In all, about 250 students have joined the effort.

"It's truly a grassroots effort," said Schneider, "but if we can help an infectious-disease physician stay on the wards, do their job more effectively and take some of the stress off, then I think we've done our job."