Draped from head-to-toe in light blue scrubs and personal protective equipment, students from Touro University Nevada are helping to combat the spread of COVID-19 for Southern Nevada’s most vulnerable populations.
Students from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and School of Physician Assistant Studies gathered inside tents in the parking lot at Cashman Center at the end of March, which had recently been converted into a temporary ‘shelter’ for the Las Vegas Valley’s homeless population.
“I jumped at the opportunity to finally get out and help,” said Amanda Hertzler, a third-year student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Hertzler and nearly a dozen other Touro medical and PA students provided initial COVID-19 screenings for the populations at Cashman Center over a five-day span. The screenings consisted of taking a patient’s temperature and asking the screening questions recommended by the CDC.
“We asked them three questions: Have you been out of the country in the last 14 days? Have you been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days? And have you had a fever, cough, or shortness of breath in the last 14 days? If they said “yes” to one or two questions, we called Emergency Medical Services (EMS) who took them to the hospital for testing,” Hertzler recalled.
Justin Madriaga, a student in the School of Physician Assistant Studies, said providing these screenings presented him and his classmates with additional opportunities to interact with patients as clinical rotations for Touro students have been put on hold.
“This volunteer opportunity allowed us to safely continue interacting with patients and better understand how this pandemic is affecting the high-risk homeless population in our community,” Madriaga said.
Allison Boynton, a third-year student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the experience was rewarding as she and her fellow Touro students were able to make a difference to some of the Valley’s most desperate populations.
“It’s been very rewarding to be on the frontlines where the difference we are making is much more tangible,” she said. “I learned more about the disease itself, how medical care functions during a time of crisis, and how I personally handle crisis.”
According to Dr. Rebecca Edgeworth, Assistant Professor in the School of Physician Assistant Studies, Touro students completed approximately 550 screenings over a five-night period during the initial week of testing. The opportunity for PA and DO students to work together, she added, made the experience much more rewarding.
“This was a wonderful experience because it allowed students from different programs to accomplish a common goal,” she said. “We’re living in a very unique time and a lot of our students are anxious to help. This gives them an opportunity to do that.”
After completing five days of screenings at Cashman Center, Touro University Nevada was asked to coordinate with the Battle Born Medical Corps and the Army National Reserve Corps as part of the Governor’s emergency declaration to combat COVID-19. For the past two weeks, Touro’s students have completed patient evaluations at the city’s Isolation/Quarantine complex (ISO-Q) in Downtown Las Vegas and are continuing to volunteer regularly.
Patients are transported to the ISO-Q complex from a hospital or homeless shelter if they are COVID-19 positive or have COVID-19 symptoms. From there, Touro students and other medical professionals monitor them closely until they are no longer symptomatic.
Dr. Edgeworth, a member of the Battle Born Medical Corps, said there has been an increase in participation interest from Touro students who want to help flatten the curve. The more involved they are with their community, the more likely they are to stay in Nevada after they graduate, she said.
“These students are volunteering out of a commitment to their community,” she said. “The key to keeping good practitioners here in Southern Nevada is to keep them connected to the community. This is a perfect example of helping to keep our students engaged. They will be better prepared as physicians and physician assistants because of this.”
As the rest of the world tries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, students from Touro University Nevada can say that they actually had a hand in working to flatten the curve.