HOMETOWN HELPERS: Med students aid the frontline donating protective equipment

NYU med students drop off supplies at a NYC hospital.
NYU med students drop off supplies at a NYC hospital.(Courtesy of Mericien Venzon)

They’re years away from needing to don their own protective gear, but that’s not stopping young medical students around New York from rounding up thousands of donations of PPE for health care workers on the front lines of the city’s coronavirus epidemic.
Laura McLaughlin, a New York University med student, is working with aspiring physicians across the city to collect personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses in need through PPE2NYC.com.
“It was started a couple weeks ago by some NYU MD-PhD students and they basically started collecting donations right from their labs,” said the 25-year-old Los Angeles native. Word spread quickly, and soon some students were collecting spare equipment from tattoo parlors, veterinarians and dentists among others.
“So we decided to make a hotline for doctors to ask for masks or gloves or gowns and we connected them to a donor in their neighborhood.”
(Courtesy of Gaby Meyer)
The Kips Bay resident founded the hotline and then created the accompanying website. She and her friends weren’t even aware at first of just how serious the dwindling supply-chain problem had become.
“First we were reading about it on the news, but knowing friends who were doctors, we were seeing how bad it was getting and hearing firsthand from doctors on the hotline,” McLaughlin said.
“Our med school was put on hold for a while, and we had nothing to do but we had a lot of motivation to help.”
As word of the hotline spread among donors and doctors, it also began reaching medical students across the city. What began as NYU students looking for COVID-19-related initiatives became a citywide effort organized by med students hoping to help mentors in their field.
“We got into this profession because we want to help people,” she said of the outpouring of students’ support. “Ideally we want to be helping people in the hospital, but because we can’t do that, anything we can do to help take a burden off of them counts.”
Samantha Lux is pictured with PPE that she helped to collect with NYC medical students.
Samantha Lux is pictured with PPE that she helped to collect with NYC medical students.
The epidemic is stressful for everyone, McLaughlin noted — but more so for medical professionals worried about a source for new protective equipment.
“If we can alleviate some of that stress, we can serve some purpose," she said.
The outpouring proves many New Yorkers agree.
“It’s remarkable to see the creativity and solutions people are doing,” she said. “This has been a creative solution to a problem that really shouldn’t exist. People are making masks and face shields, there’s jewelry makers 3D printing things, people posting on Instagram to rally others to get gear in their niche.”

Not only has the experience provide desperately needed equipment to people risking their lives to keep New Yorkers healthy and safe, but it’s also confirmed to McLaughlin and her colleagues they’ve chosen the right field to pursue.

“It’s quite frightening to hear these things, that doctors are told to wear masks all month or they’re wearing trash bags as gowns. But doctors are so appreciative and grateful that in a frightening experience, they’re uplifting," she said.

“I went into college knowing I wanted to be a doctor,” McLaughlin said. “Medical school has been a confirmation of that desire. I love learning what I’m learning and I love being able to use that knowledge and people skills to help people through this crisis.”

This epidemic is the education of a lifetime, she said.

“I have a lifetime to learn medicine,” she said one doctor advised her. "This is much more important because it’s serving a bigger purpose.”

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