Memphis medical students volunteer on the front line of COVID-19 testing

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As Memphis battles the coronavirus pandemic, some of those on the front lines are medical students at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

It’s an initiative no other medical school in the United States has been allowed to do — using medical students and leading a test center.

Last month the American Medical Association recommended medical students be taken out of hospitals because of the pandemic.

But Dr. Dave Schwartz, the chair of radiation oncology at UTHSC College of Medicine found a way to safely get students involved who wanted to help.

“Traditionally, students have been kept out of the fray in times of crisis,” Schwartz said. “Fortunately, we not only had the talent, but also the spit and vinegar in the blood stream, sort of, to take the initiative.”

Schwartz said the leadership of the medical school wanted to show the community that they were sitting on some of the best talent the city could offer in the students.

One of them is fourth-year medical student Bailey Little.

“We had our first day operating in Frayser, which is pretty great to be able to make it a little more accessible to the community in Memphis,” Little said. “Being able to stay in touch with patients, hear their stories, how the pandemic is affecting them, is only going to make me a better doctor.”

Students are volunteering and administering COVID-19 tests at Tiger Lane and at the North Frayser community center, where they gain real-world experience while providing testing to some of the city’s underserved communities.

“We are learning how to adapt quickly in a situation that a pandemic offers and how to work with local officials. So there’s really tons of learning opportunities along the way,” Sonia Ajmera said.

Medical students, who spend so much time in the classroom, can lose sight of the patient care aspect of the field, Kathryn Sowler said.

“Doing something like this reminds you this what you want to be doing with your life,” Sowler said.

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