Medical students help Reno’s homeless and underserved amid COVID-19

Students help transient and low socioeconomic populations gain access to health and hygiene products

A photo of UNR Med's Health and Hygiene Student Interest Group leaders posing with kits of health and hygiene products for underserved populations.

Second-year medical students and Health and Hygiene Student Interest Group (SIG) leaders, from left to right, Henry Rice, Sabel Witmer, Ngantu Le and Keanu McMurray collect health and hygiene products and partner with Northern Nevada Hopes to help the medically underserved community. Photo courtesy of Ngantu Le. 

In mid-March, as Gov. Steve Sisolak was asking Nevadans to Stay Home to limit the spread of COVID-19, a group of University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) medical students was thinking about the people in our community who don't have homes.

UNR Med's Health and Hygiene Student Interest Group (SIG) collects necessities that promote the health and hygiene of underserved populations, such as toothpaste, wet wipes, and feminine hygiene products.

With the rising concern of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to hygiene became more important than ever. Second-year medical students and Health and Hygiene Student Interest Group (SIG) leaders Ngantu Le, Keanu McMurray, Henry Rice and Sabel Witmer wondered if underserved community members were getting the supplies and services they needed to become educated about the virus and take preventative measures.

"We decided to make it our mission to further the reach of our Health and Hygiene SIG as much as possible, to directly help Reno's transient and low socioeconomic populations gain access to health and hygiene products," said Le.

During the same month, the student leaders discovered an opportunity to further their work. The Arnold P. Gold Foundation offers the Gold Summer Service Fellowship program to provide medical students "an opportunity to design and implement a service project addressing a public health need in an underserved community or population. The Foundation's goal is to provide an opportunity for students to work directly with patients and to become more compassionate, relationship-centered physicians."

"Our service project has always addressed the basic hygiene and health needs of our community," said Le. "In our application, we emphasized the importance of our project in this current pandemic and tailored it to address other hygiene essentials to combat the virus."

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation selected Le, McMurray, Rice and Witmer as 2020 Gold Student Summer Fellows, counted among just 17 medical students who are directly aiding patient populations that are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.

As part of the annual program, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation awarded a $3,600 stipend to procure all of the basic hygiene supplies needed to assemble 750 hygiene kits, including masks, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, elevating their mission to match the new challenges created by the pandemic.

"The work being undertaken by Ngantu Le, Keanu McMurray, Henry Rice and Sabel Witmer exemplifies the spirit of compassionate, collaborative and scientifically excellent care for those at increased risk during the COVID crisis that we intended for recipients of the Gold Student Summer Fellowship," said Ann Bruder, AVP, Programs at the Gold Foundation. "Being able to care for oneself is a critical component of good health as well as human dignity. This is especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic. For people experiencing homelessness, this can be a great challenge, and the work of the UNR Med summer fellows is both inspiring and a vitally important aspect of care during the pandemic."

"We are truly grateful that the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Student Service Fellowship enabled us to sustain our services to our underserved community during this time," said Le.

The Health and Hygiene SIG has a longstanding partnership with Northern Nevada Hopes and hosts their clinics alongside Change Point program events, in order to provide an avenue to better reach the medically underserved community.

"The initiative of the Health and Hygiene SIG to fulfill an unmet need of our homeless population speaks volumes to their commitment to serving our community during the pandemic and we are proud of the work they have accomplished reflecting our vision for a Healthy Nevada," said Cherie Singer Ph.D., associate dean for Student Affairs.

Before their supplies become depleted, UNR Med students will return to reaching out to local health care organizations, as well as large corporations like Bombas, a sock company that recently donated 2,500 pair of socks in service of their mission to help those experiencing homelessness.

Supplies needed include gallon bags, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, band-aids, deodorant, wet wipes, petroleum jelly, sunscreen, lip balm, hand warmers, feminine hygiene products, facial coverings and hand sanitizer. The group values every donation of essential supplies.

The SIG is also in need of PPE products for their volunteer duties on-site at Change Point, including N95 masks, gowns, gloves and booties. To donate supplies or PPE to the Health and Hygiene SIG, contact Ngantu Le, at

To learn how to support the UNR Med Health and Hygiene Student Interest Group, please contact Amelia Lane, assistant director of development, at

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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday November 3, 2020 @ 6:00 AM