UNR Med students bolster health care workforce during COVID-19 pandemic

Students assist with testing, screening, hotlines, elder, child and pet care

A UNR Med student assists with drive-through COVID-19 testing.

UNR Med fourth-year medical student Nicholas Andrew assists with drive-through COVID-19 testing at the University Health Internal Medicine appointment-only drive-through location. UNR Med photo by Brin Reynolds. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much uncertainty and change at all levels of education. Medical education is no exception. While the COVID-19 outbreak has complicated the learning process, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) students are taking what they've learned in the lecture halls and during clinical rotations to mobilize in response to the COVID-19 crisis, bolstering the health care workforce in northern Nevada.

Approximately 70 UNR Med medical students and physician assistant studies students with a shared desire to volunteer their time and talent are stepping up to assist in the community's fight against COVID-19. The students are providing a range of assistance at community health care partner organizations, at the University Health Internal Medicine Clinic, and on campus to help address the influx of patient care. The students are assisting with COVID-19 health screenings, drive-through testing, COVID-19 hotline call centers triage support, and assisting School of Medicine and University Health employees serving at clinical locations with free childcare, elderly check-ins, grocery shopping, pet care, etc.  

"It's incredibly inspiring," said Lisa Calvo, M.D., interim associate dean for medical education, who is coordinating student volunteer efforts. "We have a number of students who said, 'Let me know what I can do.' And they're working side-by-side with our community health care partners and making huge contributions to help northern Nevada flatten the curve against the coronavirus."   

COVID-19 testing sites  

UNR Med student volunteers are on the front lines of COVID-19 assisting with patient drive-through testing at University Health's Internal Medicine practice at 6130 Plumas Street in Reno and at the Washoe County Health District (WCHD). Patients are tested by appointment-only at drive-through COVID-19 testing stations.  

Lauran Evans, UNR Med fourth-year medical student, is assisting with two COVID-19 testing sites between WCHD and University Health, testing around 60 patients a day. At the testing sites, SAVE volunteers direct cars, filtered in one at a time, while a medical student swabs each patient and sends the test tube to the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at UNR Med for testing.  

"It's been an amazing opportunity to volunteer and be able to make a difference in the lives of patients, but also to help relieve other health care workers who are working hard and get them more rest, and more time with their families," said Evans.  

Washoe County School District  

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) Food and Nutrition Team, who are distributing meals to WCSD students, meet UNR Med student volunteers when they enter the building in the morning at 585 Spice Island Court in Sparks. The students conduct screenings for employees, take temperatures and answer questions about COVID-19.  

Lydia Morrison, UNR Med second-year physician assistant studies student, said that "clinical and classroom experiences prepared me to talk to employees being screened and solicit, synthesize and analyze information to help the WCSD make informed decisions to keep employees and the community safe."  

"Some of the members of our food and nutrition team are in the age group where they are vulnerable to getting COVID-19," said Margaret Allen, director of WCSD Student Health Services. "It helps this team of under-appreciated workers feel good that students are willing to get up early and be there for them."   

COVID-19 hotlines  

The WCHD and REMSA 24/7 COVID-19 Community Triage Line, as well as a COVID-19 hotline serving the Elko area, are being staffed by UNR Med medical students and physician assistant students who are fielding questions and concerns about COVID-19 while they are practicing social distancing from their homes from across Nevada, and helping those experiencing symptoms in Elko with next steps.  

Amber English, environmental health specialist supervisor with WCHD, says the students are enhancing their ability to operate in an emergency situation with adaptability, flexibility and accountability.  

Clinton Kolseth, UNR Med fourth-year medical student, has been staffing the Elko County COVID-19 Hotline to increase the bandwidth of calls being accepted. If a caller's symptoms are deemed mild, they are advised to self-isolate, contact their health care provider and provided educational resources from the state and CDC. If a caller presents concerning symptoms, is over the age of 60, or has chronic health problems, they are referred to Elko County providers serving patients with respiratory issues.  

"I have learned that simple education on preventing COVID-19 infection has brought many patients peace of mind, and I plan to emphasize prevention in my [future] career in internal medicine," said Kolseth.  

"I found the majority of my time on calls was spent calming fears of patients and helping the community to better understand the current situation," said Ryan Hood, UNR Med fourth-year medical student who is assisting with WCHD phone triage. "UNR Med does a great job training compassionate physicians and despite the limitations of a phone call, I feel I am still able to establish a deep connection and good rapport with my patients."  

"I will always remember the importance of human connection through this experience," said Jenna Rassuschine, UNR Med fourth-year medical student assisting with the WCHD/REMSA COVID-19 hotline. "We may be alone in our homes while we socially distance, but we are always together in community. Nothing will ever break that."  

The WCHD and REMSA 24/7 COVID-19 Community Triage Line is 775-328-2427. The Elko COVID-19 hotline is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday by calling (775) 777-2507. 


Media Contacts

Julie Ardito, APR
Senior Director, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 784-6006

Tessa Bowen, MPA
Communications Manager, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 682-9254

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 April 7, 2020 @ 8:00 AM