Amid the COVID-19 crisis, DMU students step up to serve, support Polk County health professionals

Sheltering-at-home and social distancing are not options for front-line health care employees. Working to provide some relief to these individuals and their families are more than 80 Des Moines University students, representing all eight of DMU’s graduate medical and health sciences programs: They created the Des Moines Childcare and Household Management Resource Network to help with household and childcare tasks for members of the Polk County medical community, from physicians and nurses to pharmacists and custodians.

Sydney Stanley, a second-year student in DMU’s doctor of osteopathic medicine program and president of her class, got the ball rolling.

Sydney Stanley, D.O.’22 (DMU photo by Brett T. Roseman)

“There was a need amongst medical personnel for support and there was an excess of students who were equipped to serve this community,” she says. “Our students provided over 10,000 hours of community service last year and were on track to provide 12,000 hours of community service this year. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the students’ regularly scheduled volunteer opportunities in the community were put hold. This network re-opens the door for students who want to volunteer and who want to serve this community.” 

DMU students provide services such as childcare/baby-sitting, pet-sitting, grocery shopping and meal preparation for medical personnel and their families. One to five student volunteers are assigned to each household depending on the needs of the family. Information about the network is being disseminated via a joint effort with the Polk County Medical Society and central Iowa hospital and clinic systems.

Sydney says she learned this type of program would be invaluable to local medical professionals after talking with Vanja Duric, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and pharmacology at DMU.

“I want people to know that there are still ways to support their neighbors, the vulnerable populations and our community at large, while also following safe social practices,” she says. “I believe the surgeon general said it best, “Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.’

“I am elated to be able to represent DMU in such an impactful way,” she adds.

Students also are volunteering to staff the 211 hotline devoted to answering COVID-19 questions. On March 16, the Polk County Health Department advised county residents to call 211 if they have mild symptoms of the novel coronavirus instead of going to the doctor’s office.

“I volunteered with Iowa 2-1-1 line to answer questions about symptoms, quarantine and testing for COVID-19,” says Kathryn Aitkens, a third-year osteopathic medical student. “It has been a good experience to be able to have an outlet to help people during a time of need.”

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