March 25, 2020

Medical and nursing students quickly answer the call for COVID-19 help

UCalgary volunteers help with collecting information about community transmissions, and supporting health-care practitioners on the front lines
Contact tracing
Contact tracing

An urgent request went out just before 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. At least 20 medical students were needed to volunteer supporting the Provincial Medical Officer of Health with contact tracing — the process of identifying people who may have come into contact with a COVID-19 infected person and collecting further information. Training would begin at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre the next morning.

Within 11 minutes the training spots for Sunday were full. In all, more than 150 students were trained over the next week.

Our students really stepped up in a time of need,” says Dr. Christopher Naugler, MD, associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education at the Cumming School of Medicine. “It’s exactly this type of leadership and desire to support the community from our medical learners that is so important in times of crisis.

The quick action and volunteer effort has been noticed. Along with many social media shout outs, Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, MD, cited the volunteering of medical students as an example of innovation in the province's response thus far.

And it’s one of many examples of giving and volunteering that has occurred since the coronavirus pandemic began affecting the lives of Calgarians.

On Sunday, Cumming School of Medicine Dean, Dr. Jon Meddings, MD, sent out a request to a group of academic physicians in Calgary to also help with contact tracing. Within a day, more than 290 volunteered to help out.

CSM Volunteers

CSM medical students train to help with contact tracing.

Medicine and Nursing students collaborate on volunteer group

Medical students Brielle Cram and Moss Bruton Joe started a volunteer group to support the local response to the pandemic on March 15. In a week, the group successfully matched over 40 health-care practitioners with health-care student volunteers in either medicine or nursing. The program is expanding to include Mount Royal and SAIT students.

“It’s been so inspiring to watch health-care students come together across all disciplines to help staff, residents and allied health professionals,” says Cram, who recently finished her final year of medical school and will be starting her residency in pediatrics in Calgary later this year.

“While we are unable to help in a clinical capacity, we want to do our part, and offer our time and support to those on the front-line in health care.”

“There is an overwhelming need for support during this time and our wait-list for childcare continues to grow. While the primary need is childcare, we have over 100 students eager to help with pet-care, and grocery pick-ups.” 

Similar to medical students at other universities who are volunteering, the group is taking appropriate precautions, speaking with public health, re-enforcing good hand hygiene and doing frequent check-ins to ensure that all participants are healthy and asymptomatic with no known exposure to anyone ill or at high risk of getting sick. 

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.

For resources to support students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all our communities during this unprecedented time, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Community Support website.


Dr. Christopher Naugler, MD, associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education, is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and a former medical director of Alberta Precision Laboratories, South Sector. He holds cross-appointments in the departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences and is a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute.