Dental Students Volunteer for the COVID-19 Frontlines

Dentistry Today


More than 600 students from across the University of Manitoba’s Rady Faculty of Health Sciences including students from the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry have stepped up to assist with COVID-19 response efforts. Since the pandemic began, the Rady Faculty has been collaborating with Shared Health to find ways for students to contribute. 

Students are helping to screen individuals at the entry points of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre (HSC), Grace and St. Boniface hospitals, asking people for their purpose of entry, travel history, and if they are experiencing symptoms. They also are assisting frontline workers at drive-through testing centers. 

Rita Wang, a first-year student at  the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry, is volunteering as a screener at HSC. She believes this is a time for students, who will become healthcare professionals, to demonstrate leadership and support the healthcare system to the best of their abilities.

“Participating in screenings at hospitals, helping to manage calls, and so on are all great opportunities to take action and help protect the patients, the public, as well as our frontline workers,” said Wang. 

Stephanie Bansee, a third-year College of Pharmacy student, also is volunteering as a screener. For her, becoming a healthcare professional means putting the health and safety of patients and the community first.

“It’s important to me to help alleviate some of the pressures people are facing in these current circumstances, as both patients and healthcare workers need support during this time,” said Bansee.

Amy Sahai, a third-year student in the Max Rady College of Medicine and president of the class of 2021, said she and other members of the student leadership have organized to mobilize med student volunteers in additional areas such as screening at access centers.

“As future physicians, we feel it is our duty to serve our community as professionals,” said Sahai. “For so many students, there was no question about whether or not we wanted to help, and many were ready to mobilize in any capacity needed right away.”

Third-year medical student George Cai is working 11- to 12-hour days to inform students about opportunities, follow up with sites, and handle logistics such as confirming schedules and parking. Cai also is helping new initiatives off the ground.

One group of physicians proposed having medical student volunteers scheduled around the clock to audit and coach healthcare workers at the HSC emergency room as personal protective equipment was used and discarded. The project is being piloted in the hopes it will reduce contamination and wasted resources.

Another initiative will have medical students contact potentially affected individuals and follow up with them over the phone.

“This will expand the capacity of Manitoba Health and improve the care and well-being of Manitobans who need to be socially isolating but not isolated,” said Cai. 

Other students have partnered with Doctors Manitoba to provide child care, pet care, errands, and grocery services to healthcare workers in the Winnipeg region. Third-year medical students Fiona Vickers and Coke Kubay teamed together to organize a childcare task force. 

Vickers said that when she heard schools were closing, she offered to babysit to help give back to one of her mentors, a doctor and single father of two daughters, who she said had been a pillar of support for her as a med student.

“It got me thinking about other doctors who have found themselves in the same situation,” said Vickers.

“As med students, we are accustomed to being busy and feeling useful, and when our clerkship was put on hold, we needed to find a way to sustain that. Our role has changed, but we have found ways to bring support to those who are still working with patients,” Vickers said. 

Other volunteer activities have included delivering food hampers for community organizations and contacting organizations and companies to recruit personal protective equipment to replenish the stock for frontline workers.

And, more than 100 fourth-year College of Nursing students are working with Health Links, and senior students have been staffing the Health Links lines as screeners as their community health course requirement.

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