The increase in COVID-19 cases in Grenada has mobilized St. George’s University School of Medicine students to use their passion for medicine and acquired skills toward helping their beloved host country and its communities. Over the past several weeks, many aspiring physicians heeded the call to help those in need by volunteering at mobile testing and vaccination clinics organized by Grenada’s Ministry of Health (MOH) across the island.
“I could not have leaped up fast enough at the opportunity to assist in combatting COVID-19 in Grenada, not only to act in my capacity as an epidemiologist and medical student, but to give back to the community that gives me and the broader SGU community so much and allows us to call their home, our home,” said Term 4 SOM student Cameron Rattray, MPH. “We are one people, one community, and we all must band together in these turbulent times to fight COVID-19 and win this war.”
Under the direction of Dr. Carol McIntosh, the Ministry of Health’s director of hospital services, students traveled in teams across the island to serve in the MOH’s pop-up clinics. Students ranged from Term 1 through Term 5, with School of Medicine faculty advisors also onsite to oversee them.
“We are so proud of these students who selflessly gave their time to give back to the Grenadian community,” said Dr. Marios Loukas, dean of the School of Medicine. “Offering to assist Grenada’s healthcare workers during this time of need is the sign of a true calling as a physician. These experiences will become invaluable as they continue their training.”
Among the student volunteer responsibilities—vaccination and COVID-19 testing registration and site setup, assisting the physicians administer tests and vaccinations, providing results and educational material, monitoring patients who received the vaccine for any adverse reactions to the injection, and helping clinic attendees maintain social distancing while waiting for the vaccine.
Members of SGU’s Emergency Medicine Club (EMC) were among the student volunteers eager to help. According to EMC President Arya Hawkins-Zafarnia, the lessons learned by students were innumerable and invaluable, falling into two camps: disaster response/emergency preparedness/management and compassionate community engagement.
While everyone’s roles varied, volunteers learned the importance remaining flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of each community’s situation, maintaining direct lines of communication to the physicians onsite, and working as a cohesive unit with a common purpose. They also learned the importance of extending compassion and respect to the Grenadians in need, Mr. Hawkins-Zafarina noted.
“Many students were exposed firsthand to communities that harbor mixed levels of skepticism in the available vaccines,” he said. “During our Friday evening briefing, Dr. McIntosh shared with the group of volunteers some wise words, and I think they were apparent in their relevance all weekend long: ‘Compassion cannot be taught, but it can be learned.’”
That said, “the Grenadians we encountered were incredibly kind and grateful,” Mr. Hawkins-Zafarnia added. “We encountered many that were vaccine-hesitant for both themselves and their families, and we tried our best to inform them of the benefits of getting vaccinated, if eligible. Health literacy is a challenge around the world, but there can be success when you approach people at their level and explain concepts in a culturally sensitive manner.”
As attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 continues, SGU remains a trusted ally to the Government of Grenada. SGU faculty members have stepped up to volunteer their skills and expertise at the mobile vaccination sites. In addition, students in the School of Arts and Sciences nursing program have been volunteering at health centers across the country, providing Grenada’s healthcare professionals with much-needed assistance, a chance for a break, and camaraderie.
Crucial in the organization and planning of SGU student volunteer activities was the Student Government Association in collaboration with the Department of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences within the SAS, which has become the official liaison between the MOH to coordinate gathering student volunteers for the clinics.
This past weekend, more than 100 students—both School of Medicine and School of Arts and Sciences—volunteered in the communities, with many more asking how they could help. As the Ministry of Health organizes more vaccination events throughout the island, there will be additional opportunities for students to volunteer, according to Dr. Jennifer Solomon, chair and director of Department of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences.
“Altruism is in the DNA of any healthcare worker,” Dr. Solomon said. “It’s wonderful to see students across schools working together to learn about each other’s roles. These are the doctors and nurses of tomorrow.”
– Laurie Chartorynsky