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Heritage College students to lend a hand in fighting pandemic

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is sending in reinforcements in Ohio’s battle with COVID-19. Starting April 13, approximately 250 medical students will deploy to local health agencies to assist in containing the outbreak and support Ohio’s public health professionals.

All third-year Heritage College students will participate in the new COVID-19 public health rotation, a four-week course designed by the medical school in partnership with the Ohio Department of Health, and implemented with help from other state agencies. Through the rotation, students will contribute significantly to the state’s response to the pandemic – especially in small, understaffed local health agencies.  

“Our students have been asking, ‘How can we help?’” said William Burke, D.O. (’88), dean of the college’s Dublin, Ohio, campus, who led the effort to put together the contents of the new rotation. “Our students are willing to go above and beyond to provide service to help their communities. And we think this meets not only their desire, but also the needs of the state of Ohio.”

Burke praised Ken Johnson, D.O., Heritage College executive dean and Ohio University chief medical affairs officer, who first approached ODH about having medical students bolster the health care workforce, especially with the anticipated rise in coronavirus cases this spring.

“Our medical students are excited to be able to apply their talents toward supporting patients and health care systems in this way,” said Johnson. “They are well-equipped to provide this relief, and we’re thankful to the Ohio Department of Health and others for making possible meaningful curricular experiences that both preserve personal protective equipment and keep our future physicians safe and on track to graduate.”

Mark Hurst, M.D., medical director for ODH, said that having medical students in critical public health roles will free up physicians, nurses and other frontline providers to devote more time to the direct care of patients.

“We’re immensely grateful for the willingness of our higher education institutions to lend their assistance at this time, especially with the anticipated surge in April and May,” he said. “As our state’s future medical workforce, they’ll be better prepared to deal with future disease outbreaks.”

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, Ph.D., said the pandemic has created an “all hands on deck” situation in which the medical college and other units have talents that can help the state minimize COVID-19’s impact. “Ohio University has a long history of service to our state and its people,” Nellis said. “We are discussing ways our partnership can be expanded quickly to include students in a variety of health-related and communications fields.”

Each third-year medical student will be matched with a local health department or another public agency through the combined efforts of the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio National Guard, the Ohio Medical Reserve Corps, the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers and the Ohio Association of Health Commissioners. Working either remotely or on site, students will help with patient navigation, patient monitoring and contact tracing. Other jobs might include acting as public information officers through social media, communicating with local health care providers and answering COVID-19 phone hotlines.

Simultaneously, students will learn about the prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19 and pandemic infections in general. Learning modules will include handwashing/disinfection, personal protective equipment, quarantine, social distancing, clinical aspects of COVID-19, treatment options, testing and screening, COVID-19 in children and in pregnancy, and blood supply safety.

The Heritage College is requiring the four-week clinical rotation for its class of 2021. Students from other medical and health profession schools in the state can participate in the COVID-19 public health rotation on a volunteer basis.

Burke said in creating the new course, he drew heavily on an existing online course offered at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. He added that he believes the Heritage College’s level of involvement in the state’s COVID-19 efforts is unique in the nation, and the college is in discussions with the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and the American Association of Medical Colleges to share this initiative as a model for other states.

April 2, 2020
Staff reports