University of South Florida


Medical student, Sam Harris, distributes hygiene products during COVID-19 social distancing.

USF medical students create new ways to reach patients

When COVID-19 restrictions kept USF medical students from all direct contact with patients, many refused to stay away completely. Instead, they used online tools to build new services and resources to reaffirm their commitment to the field. From making calls to check on patients, to creating multilingual resource guides for underserved communities, to creating online cooking clubs or even assisting health care workers with their own personal duties, students found ways to do what they most love – to help others.

“Going into medicine has been about my love of people,” said Richa Bisht, first-year medical student at the Morsani College of Medicine. “Even though I haven’t been able to interact with patients at all, it’s helped me realize that even though I can’t do any clinical activities, I still do love medicine at its very core. I love hearing people’s stories and helping any way that I can.”

Bisht teamed up with Harvard medical students, including USF alumna Lianet Vázquez, to build the online resource guide, ContraCOVID. The student-led project strives to be a one-stop shop for all things related to the pandemic. Their mission is to help underserved populations, such as Latino and non-English-speaking communities and immigrants, access social services during the pandemic. Since March, their work has expanded throughout the nation to include more than 12 cities and continues to grow. Their guides are available in several languages and list sites where people can find food pantries, learn more about health-related issues and get information on help hotlines, testing sites and more.

The web link is shared via medical education networks where doctors and residents pass along the information as needed. Bisht recently received a message via social media, reaffirming its value.

“It’s so cool and I feel really grateful to be part of this group,” Bisht said.

When Josh Mizels was no longer allowed in patient rooms, he worked with faculty to establish the Coco Clinic, an interdisciplinary student-run telehealth service that checks in on COVID-19 patients. The clinic marries the need for third- and fourth-year medical students to continue their medical education with the need to continuously monitor COVID-19 patients. Students make personal connections through daily follow-up phone calls, where patients can be monitored while quarantined. Students also try to help locate other resources for patients, such as masks and other public health services, as well as offer emotional support.

“Most of the patients are scared, anxious to be home with this brand-new disease that not a lot is known about,” said Mizels, a third-year medical student. “It helps a lot to have a team of people who are checking on them and making sure that they are doing okay at home.

People who are experiencing homelessness are also benefiting from the medical students' desire to stay involved. Sam Harris, who normally helps direct the student-run Tampa Bay Street Medicine project, where students offer their services under the supervision of an attending faculty physician, had an epiphany one day while picking up his lunch at his local Fresh Kitchen restaurant. He observed the way the restaurant had set up safely distanced carry-out stations.

“I was just like huh, that would be an awesome place to collect the masks,” said Harris, a third-year medical student. “So, I just reached out to them. And they were generous enough to let us use three of their locations.”

Harris set up donation boxes for a limited time at three locations and collected about 500 masks. He then took the masks home and inspected them for suitability, washed them and ultimately redistributed them to high-risk patients and their families, including refugees and homeless patients affiliated with the Tampa Bay Street Medicine.

“Just been trying to do what we can while trying to stay within the rules,” Harris said.

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