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Medical students volunteer, give back to Wichita community amid pandemic

April 27, 2020

Hannah Wilson, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, carries a bag from Senior Services as she volunteers for Meals on Wheels.
Hannah Wilson, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita, carries a bag from Senior Services as she volunteers for Meals on Wheels.

By Darcy Gray

Many medical students at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita have turned to volunteerism, finding ways to give back to their community even as they themselves grapple with changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As learning environments for students across the country transitioned online in March, Wichita medical students also saw their on-site clinical education at partner hospitals, medical clinics and physician offices suspended.

Several KU School of Medicine-Wichita students recognized the immediate need for child care among Wichita health care professionals and volunteered to assist. Some fourth-year medical students received permission to graduate early, so they could join the Kansas Pandemic Volunteer Workforce. Other students spent their spring break and beyond delivering Meals on Wheels across Wichita.

"I'm so proud of our students and their initiative to help the community," said Heather van Buuren, director of Academic & Student Affairs at KU School of Medicine-Wichita. "The students recognize the need and felt compelled to rise to the occasion to help."

Todd Savolt, a third-year medical student, canceled his trip to Colorado for spring break but found a way to use his newfound free time by delivering food to senior citizens through Meals on Wheels. He said he thought it was "important to deliver food to one of the most at-risk groups, so they would not have to leave their homes."Todd Savolt

With a dozen people on his delivery route, Savolt soon developed a rapport with the people he delivered meals to. One man even invited him inside to unpack the meal into his refrigerator.

"I made small talk with many of the people on my route, and it became evident I was the only person they were going to see that day," Savolt said. "It was a truly rewarding experience, and I am glad I had the opportunity to give back to my community."

Hannah Wilson, third-year medical student, said she understood why but was disappointed medical students could not assist at local hospitals amid the pandemic. She felt compelled to contribute "in other ways I am able" and learned from fellow students about Meals on Wheels.

"I thought that would be a perfect way to be productive and make a positive contribution to our community, while supporting those who are following the stay-at-home recommendations," she said of her decision to help with Meals on Wheels.

Even after starting a virtual surgery clerkship, which was "packed full of live online lectures and online skill modules," she made plans to continue volunteering as the weeks that followed included "more self-paced modules," she said.

"I plan to continue to spend time delivering meals until students are able to get back into the hospitals," Wilson said. "The transition to online clerkships has gone very well and I feel like we haven't missed a beat."

"There are many people struggling during the pandemic, and I think it is extremely important that everyone does what they can to help others stay safe and make it through this," she said. "Whether it is practicing social distancing to protect others, calling to check in on a neighbor, or working in the hospital, I truly believe that everyone has something constructive to contribute to the situation."

For third-year medical student Megan Blythe, delivering Meals on Wheels was an opportunity for her to give back amid the pandemic, as was assisting with child care for a local health care provider. She was excited to find a way to "help out and support our health care team and community during this stressful time."Megan Blythe

Both volunteer opportunities "provided me with a deeper connection to the Wichita community," she said.

"The whole experience has made me so aware of the far-reaching impact of this crisis," Blythe said. "It's been easy to get caught up in how my world and schooling has changed, but everyone is adjusting, including health care workers, children and the elderly. I feel good knowing that I am supporting others during this time, and to be honest, I feel like these interactions have supported me through the transition as well."

Van Buuren said she was proud of volunteer efforts of medical students and called them "great role models for future students."

"This is what it means to become a physician - offering not only the clinical care, but also emotional and social support during an extremely difficult time for everyone," she said.

Pictured above, right: Megan Blythe, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita

Pictured above, left: Todd Savolt, third-year medical student at KU School of Medicine-Wichita

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: Apr 27, 2020
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KU School of Medicine–Wichita
Public Affairs
1010 N. Kansas
Wichita, KS, 67214

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