MUSC students volunteer to care for health care workers' kids during COVID-19

April 06, 2020
Medical student Cameron Callahan with 4-year-old Roman J. Garner.
Medical student Cameron Callahan talks with 4-year-old Roman J. Garner. Photo by Sarah Pack

More than 100 students at the Medical University of South Carolina have signed up to provide free care to the children of health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Second-year medical students Brian Elmore and Sean Thompson organized the program.

“As future medical providers, we want to help and to contribute to this effort. However, we’re limited by the level of our training. It feels good to be able to channel this desire to help into this child care program,” Elmore said.

“We’re living in a historic moment when our health care systems and our society are being challenged in immense ways. I think everybody has something to contribute to this fight — no matter how small. We don’t want those on the frontlines of this fight stressing about finding child care.”

Thompson said more than 100 health care workers have asked for child care. Most work at MUSC Health, but the list also includes health care providers at Roper Hospital, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and East Cooper Medical Center. 

“We often have to assign multiple students to one family because some of them need 40-plus hours of care a week. So we’re really grateful for any new volunteers because many families are still waiting.”

MUSC students can sign up to volunteer online and health care providers can ask online for their help

The student volunteers come from all six of MUSC’s colleges. They’re matched with families based on questionnaires the parents fill out.

Fourth-year medical student Cameron Callahan was matched with dialysis technician Elizabeth Garner’s son. Callahan comes to the family’s home twice a week to help out and calls the experience rewarding. 

“It’s been awesome,” Callahan said. “It’s definitely a time commitment, but I always feel so much better when I leave. Their child is super sweet and really fun to be around.”

Garner, who works at MUSC Health, is grateful for the help. Her husband works from home but is now juggling job duties with caring for their son. Callahan eases some of the strain, Garner said. 

“My child is on the autism spectrum, so he’s lost all of his services right now at school. Having a medical student take care of him is great. I know if anything happens, they can handle it.”

Callahan is also finishing course requirements online, preparing for a psychiatry residency at the University of North Carolina Medical Center. “I can’t really sit at home and watch Netflix. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just get a little antsy. Plus, I’ve done some pediatrics rotations — I really like kids. I think it’s a great example of how people step up in a crisis, especially Sean and Brian.”

Thompson and Elmore based the program on one started by students at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. 

Thompson said the work has helped keep him grounded. “I'm fortunate that I'm in a place where I can stay at home for a while, which I know is a huge hardship for many working people. My mom is a nurse that's been working around the clock since it's started, and all I can do is support her. This volunteer project has become my main focus since school has wound down.”

Garner, who does not work with COVID-19 patients but whose work keeps kidney patients alive through dialysis, said the student volunteers are a bright spot in a difficult time. “Knowing there’s someone coming in to help makes me feel much better."

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