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Highlights | During COVID-19, students jump in to help

  • After being pulled out of their clerkships and rotations due to COVID-19, medical students wanted to support the community.
  • UW COVID-19 Student Service Corps connects students and faculty to work on COVID-19 service learning and research projects.
  • The program is a way for students to give back to the community and continue learning.


In early March, medical students at UW School of Medicine were pulled out of their in-person classes, clerkships and rotations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was pretty surreal, I was at the VA in the middle of a clerkship and got an email saying, ‘Don’t come in tomorrow,’” says Steve Coppess, a graduating fourth-year medical student.

The clinical experience is an integral part of a medical student’s education, especially for fourth-year students about to transition into residency programs.

“We were so ready to be involved and wanted to find ways to stay connected to the medical community,” says Ashley Besch, a graduating fourth-year medical student.

But with stay-at-home orders and classes now taught over Zoom, there wasn’t much they could do.

Until late March, when Natasha Steele, also a graduating fourth-year medical student, saw an article in The New York Times about a student at Columbia Medical School that started the COVID-19 Student Service Corps (CSSC) — a program mobilizing medical students to support healthcare providers in COVID-19 efforts. She pitched the idea of starting a UW chapter of the CSSC to classmates Besch and Coppess and they unanimously agreed.

Launching UW CSSC

After setting up a meeting with the students at Columbia Medical School to learn how to launch their own chapter, co-founders Steele, Coppess and Besch started reaching out to see how they could support UW Medicine.

Coppess and Steele did the groundwork: they created a Twitter account, made cold calls to faculty and emailed researchers to see if their projects needed student support. Guided by their mentor, Herbie Duber, MD, MPH, FACEP, associate professor and section head of Population Health in the Department of Emergency Medicine and co-lead for UWSOM service learning, the co-founders were able to identify COVID-19 services and research that could use student assistance.

The launch of the UW CSSC website made connecting students and COVID-19 needs at UW Medicine even easier by allowing faculty to submit projects and students to apply online. UW CSSC now has over 92 students involved in 11 COVID-19 projects that range from telemedicine and mobile testing support to antibody and household pet research.

Doing more than their mission

UW CSSC’s founding mission was to “create a centralized system for fielding projects and research from the healthcare system, and to organize student teams to respond to the project and research needs.” A larger part of fulfilling that mission is matching students to projects and advisors that complement their goals and experience.

“This opportunity can help students with their education and career paths going forward,” says Coppess. “These are the things that shape one’s career.”

Besch also talks about the importance of this program in terms of mentorship. She says they want to allow students to build relationships and work with faculty members since many lost their clinical supervisors.

UW CSSC also offers students a chance to channel the stress of the pandemic into something constructive.

“UW CSSC is providing that sense of community for peers that might be struggling to find it during the pandemic,” says Joanna Liao, volunteer coordinator and a rising third-year medical student.

Future of UW CSSC

Since COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, the UW CSSC co-founders recruited a new leadership team to take over as they start their residencies this summer.

“The heart of UW CSSC is the people,” says Coppess. “All of these students that applied and expressed interest do not receive pay or benefits, they do it just to help out.”

Tilden Keller, a rising fourth-year medical student, will be the new student chair of UW CSSC.

“Having the opportunity to contribute to the work of UW CSSC has been wonderful,” says Keller. We are looking towards the future of our organization by bringing on interprofessional students to our leadership team as well as focusing on work that supports our most vulnerable community members.”

Congrats to the co-founders

Congratulations to the graduating UW CSSC co-founders and graduating class of 2020, who attended their physician’s oath and hooding ceremony via Zoom on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

  • Ashley Besch, MD, Radiology Resident, UW Medicine
  • Steve Coppess, MD, Emergency Medicine Resident, UW Medicine
  • Natasha Steele, MD, Internal Medicine Resident, Stanford Medicine

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