Medical students born ready to help
When first-year medical student Jalen Benson learned he would have to leave Boston to return to his hometown in Pensacola, FL, it left him feeling disconnected from his community. He lamented over the fact that he knew how he could get involved and be of help in Boston but was incapable of doing so because of the distance. But that got him thinking— Pensacola likely had needs that he could help address, and yet the local medical community did not know he was there and ready and willing to help. With health students being sent home nationwide, Benson realized he had a captive audience of people ready to volunteer their time and efforts to tackle relief efforts in their own communities and beyond.
Benson has since founded the National Student Response Network (NSRN) to organize and mobilize health students to tackle Covid-19. This network comprises over 5,300 volunteers nationwide and is led by state coordinators in every state, eight regional coordinators, four executive board members, and an administrative team. The idea is simple— hospitals and other health organizations submit requests for tasks they need to be completed, regional coordinators query the tasks by region, NSRN volunteers sign up for tasks in their area, and state coordinators connect the volunteers with the organizations that need help. NSRN currently works with state and local health departments and hospitals, and volunteers perform tasks like contact tracing, coronavirus in-person testing, grocery delivery to the elderly, and manning hotlines.
When health students sign up to be part of NSRN, they receive weekly emails detailing all the tasks in the local area, as well as tasks that can be done remotely. Students are not obligated to sign up on a long-term basis and can choose to complete as many or as few tasks as they desire. While volunteer positions at NSRN are only open to health students, others can get involved by spreading the word and sending the website (nsrnhealth.org) to health professionals they know. Volunteers are totally free, mobilizable, already within the communities, and are ready to help.
While Benson doesn’t have a background in grassroots organizing, he has managed to develop a robust nationwide network that dispatches volunteers to perform tasks in every state. As the National Director, Benson acknowledges that it can be hard to believe that you can be the person to make a difference, but he hopes to empower people to realize that they can make a positive change in their own communities. He suggests taking a look at what is already happening in your own community and what issues may be exacerbated due to the pandemic and taking action directly there. Actions like donating to a local food pantry or homeless shelter, designing flyers, making phone calls, or offering your services pro bono are ways you can get involved and directly help people in your own community.
If you’re a health student in the MD, DO, RN, PA, & NP fields or an organization in need of a task completed by a health student volunteer, visit nsrnhealth.org to learn more and sign up.