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NSRN: Medical Students Stepping Forward

Listen to Sam Sadler, co-founder of our partner, NSRN Health, discuss the growth and impact of coronavirus on medical students and on her own journey through medicine.

Deciding not to take a gap year was a more significant decision than I at first realized. In my class at Harvard Medical School, over three-quarters of the class took at least one year between undergrad and medical school to work, conduct research, or do anything in between. I admire how my classmates who chose to do so carried with them more worldly experience and perspective. Therefore, I became determined to immerse myself in as many opportunities at HMS as I could that attracted me, that I might likewise gain a more holistic understanding of my future career.

Most prominently, I quickly plugged into the “local” global neurosurgery community, continuing my passion for expanding equitable global neurosurgical care access I developed at Duke. For example, I published a piece alongside the Program for Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) mapping the evolution of the neurosurgical workforce over the past two years. I am also helping the Global Neurosurgery Committee (GNC) of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS) form a medical student sub-team to engage medical students in global neurosurgery efforts. These are a few of the international efforts that continue to inspire and challenge me intellectually and ethically.

“These are truly… unprecedented times.”

I sat in my dormitory bed with my computer in my lap, the reality of the situation slowly setting in. All three of our deans at HMS together hosted what would be the first of many Zoom meetings to come. All of our classes would now be online, and in the next few hours, hundreds of boxes would be delivered for us to move out of our dormitory ASAP. As these incredibly accomplished leaders in the medical field expressed their fears about what COVID-19 might (and in many ways, did) become, I began to better grasp the magnitude of this emerging epidemic and the impact it may have on our society’s most vulnerable. As I packed up my little dorm room, I resolved to do something during this time to somehow mitigate the burden of covid-19, but I had no idea where to start.

Jalen Benson (HMS MS2), one of my classmates at HMS, was already thinking ahead. He realized that as medical students around the nation would be sent away from their central institutions and into broader, perhaps more rural communities, there now exists a skilled workforce with a unique span. However, finding appropriate ways to get involved in local communities was challenging, and our government’s response was painfully slow and disorganized. A Google form he Tweeted revealed that thousands of health professions students likewise desired to be connected with service opportunities during COVID-19. The question now became: how could we effectively mobilize the largely untapped volunteer base during COVID-19 to effectively alleviate the burden on the healthcare system?

Thus, the National Student Response Network (NSRN) was born.

Alexis Gutierrez (HMS MS2), Terence Hughes (Sinai MS2) and I teamed up with Jalen to form the NSRN, an organization that connects health professions students with volunteering opportunities across the nation. We field tasks from healthcare facilities, non-profit organizations and more for which volunteers are needed – either remotely or on-site. Our volunteers then sign up through our system. We have progressively onboarded over 110 state coordinator, regional coordinator and administrative positions to maintain an organized yet decentralized management of this massive, 5700+ student network that continues to grow. For more on NSRN and the incredible work our volunteers are doing, follow us on Instagram (@nsrnhealth) and visit our website (www.nsrnhealth.org)!

Altogether, I would encourage incoming med and premed students to embrace your own paths. Whether you do or do not take a gap year, whether you want to engage in research right off the bat or take your time exploring your options – do not feel pressured one way or the other by those around you! Along the same vein, seek advice and counsel from those older than you – but always with a grain of salt. Every perspective and experience (including my own!) should be understood for what it is: an example of someone who made certain decisions, who lives in a particular intersectionality, and who can be learned from. Draw parallels, but recognize also the uniqueness of you and your passions. Do not be discouraged! Finally, in every stage of your educational experience, work together. You are as strong as your classmates, and in many ways, you will learn more from them than your textbooks. Be openminded, open-eared, and humble, and you will go far!

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