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Future Practitioners Support the Nation’s Healthcare System through Students Assist America

August 19, 2020
In health professions schools and programs across the country, students are providing  essential support to the U.S. health care system through the interprofessional Students Assist America initiative, one of a series of adaptive work groups that AACOM has developed in the past few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered significant gaps in public health networks in communities and states, and students are stepping up to do their part to fill the void. Future physicians, physician assistants, nurses, social workers, dental professionals, public health experts, optometrists, pharmacists, veterinarians and psychologists are joining together to provide much-needed services, including mental health screenings, contact tracing, wellness checks, vaccinations, COVID testing and more to help ensure the continued  operations of our health care system . And this effort benefits everyone involved.

“This is a win-win-win,” said Virginia Bader, MBA, who is leading the Students Assist America collaboration as the Senior Advisor to the President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. “The students get valuable experiences; their academic institutions have a meaningful way to keep their educational process moving forward; and the overtaxed health care system gets skilled help.”

This past April, through a joint effort of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Ohio Department of Health, and with implementation help from the Ohio National Guard, the Ohio Medical Reserve Corps, the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and the Ohio Association of Health Commissioners, students in the college’s third year class  were deployed to local health agencies to offer their support. 

Importantly, colleges of osteopathic medicine (COMs) and other academic institutions are looking for mechanisms to backfill delayed or cancelled clinical experiences – and to prepare for an uncertain environment this fall. Students Assist America may offer an answer.

Similar to Ohio's approach, a flagship initiative launched in June in Virginia  through a partnership between Students Assist America and the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps. Responding to the request by Governor Ralph Northam to bring students into the fight against the pandemic, academic institutions across the state are working to ensure their students have the opportunity to help their communities now, during the anticipated mass flu vaccination efforts, and well into the future once the COVID-19 crisis has passed. To date, approximately 200 students across the health professions have applied to volunteer, with some institutions developing rotations for credit associated with the students’ work.

The success of the Virginia model has spurred interest in the unique offering of Students Assist America, and additional partnerships are currently being explored in Arizona, Kentucky, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with more to come.

“These students have talents that can provide real benefit well before they graduate and it's time to think of better ways to engage them in the health care system," said Robert A. Cain, DO, FACOI, FAODME, President and CEO of AACOM. “The silver lining may be that we can test that theory now. Our long term hope is that America is ready to have this conversation."