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Proud to be a Lobo med school grad

The UNM School of Medicine's Basic Medical Sciences building. (Courtesy of UNM)

The UNM School of Medicine’s Basic Medical Sciences building. (Courtesy of UNM)

I am a fourth-year medical student at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. I also serve as the vice chair for the American Medical Association’s Medical Student Section consisting of more than 50,000 medical students in the country, a position that puts me at the epicenter of medical student, resident and physician initiatives across the country related to COVID-19.

On March 5, I arrived in Washington, D.C., for an AMA Medical Student Advocacy Conference. When I arrived, COVID-19 was a fear but not yet a reality for me. When I left D.C. on March 11, it was no longer an idea or far-off concept; it was real. Each day of the conference we’d get new updates about COVID-19 – a new case, a positive priest who had served communion, and the expanding state of urgency. When I returned home, there were three cases in New Mexico, but I knew a tide was coming.

I imagined as a fourth-year medical student that my husband and I would be packing up our home getting ready to move across the country for me to begin residency. I imagined having a “Match Day” ceremony in March where my friends and family would be together to celebrate the next step in our journey, teaching a course in April for medical students starting their clinical rotations, and then the long-awaited graduation day when I’d finally be Dr. Bronner.

When I got back to New Mexico, it wasn’t the place I had left. There was a dichotomous tone to the conversations I had – those of fear and those of unbelief. In my medical sphere there was a sense of urgency, while in others there was only brushing off of my pleas to stay home.

I reached out to the dean of Medical Student Affairs at the University of New Mexico with the simple request “Can we do something to help with childcare?” as the news of Albuquerque Public Schools closings left many of our front-line providers without caretakers for their kids. What I expected to find was a couple of medical students who would volunteer to watch some kids, but what I found was an upcoming, dynamic network of faculty and students ready to take action.

It all started with a survey sent out to medical students – would you help with child care, groceries or running errands? This would evolve into a multifaceted survey asking for needs of every kind with precautions in place in light of the ongoing pandemic. This would lead to more than 250 volunteers, both faculty and students, ready to put themselves second in order to serve our community. We would be connected to faculty with groups of students who were already delving into research on COVID-19 transmission, PPE collection and ways to support our community in a time of uncertainty. We would be connected to staff working to educate and involve our students in the response to the pandemic in more ways than I could have imagined.

It’s been weeks since we first started what felt like a David vs. Goliath feat of taking on COVID-19 in a state with far less resources than some of our counterparts. It’s been constant Zoom calls, emails, texts and calls all because our UNM School of Medicine heard the call and sprung into action. From the first day I contacted officials they have been on our side. The University of New Mexico School of Medicine began the “COVID-19 in 2020” block in March and has fostered student efforts and initiatives every step of the way.

It started with a vision – a public health curriculum centering around COVID-19 with service tracks for individuals to engage with the community – but I never envisioned where it would lead. As of today, we have more projects than I am able to keep track of, from bench research to patient experience of care in COVID-19. We have students staffing four separate COVID-19 hotlines in New Mexico, collecting PPE, creating educational materials in English, Spanish and Navajo engineered for adults and specific to children and high school students. Students are creating wellness resources for their overburdened colleagues, getting groceries to those who are unable to get them themselves, and more than anything else, responding to the needs of our beloved community. As I’ve engaged in discussions with students all over the country through the AMA, I have seen nothing close to the kind of reciprocal respect and collaboration the faculty at the UNM School of Medicine have had with our medical students. …

I’ve been thinking about what graduation might have been like surrounded by friends and family, and how I’m honestly not missing anything. I mean, graduation would have been a time to feel validated for the hard work the class of 2020 has put in, but what is more validating than being from an institution where your ideas are valued and acted upon when your community calls? I am so proud to call New Mexico home and to say I hail from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

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