Helping the helpers: Brown medical students find ways to assist doctors

PROVIDENCE — Oh, the power of a Twitter hashtag.

Kristy Blackwood, from Keene, New Hampshire, and Lindsey Kahan, from Chappaqua, New York, both go to medical school at Brown University.

Blackwood, 28, is in her second year, and Kahan, 26, is in her third, and together they started an organization that helps physicians fight on the Rhode Island frontline of the global war on coronavirus.

“The first time we saw each other was for the photo today,” Kahan said Sunday evening. Even then, they had to stand six feet apart.

Separately they had started following two medical communities, #medstudenttwitter and #medtwitter.

Both were inspired by the energy and ideas joined by those hashtags, especially what medical students in Minnesota and at Washington University in St. Louis were doing. Those communities were among the first to match medical students with physicians who worked so hard saving lives that they couldn’t manage their everyday lives, especially after schools and day-care centers closed and children needed watching at home.

Within a week of sharing the idea they wanted to introduce at Brown, “we were able to gather a whole cohort of med students and match them” with providers in emergency departments, Kahan said.

They had 50 requests for help, 90 students volunteering and from that, they made 20 matches.

Alpert Med Response Aid was up and running.

Blackwood acknowledged that babysitting, dog walking and grocery shopping “could be done by high-schoolers,” but the med students were fully trustworthy. Although some were qualified to work in hospitals, there weren’t enough masks and gloves to protect them.

“We suddenly found ourselves with no way to help clinically,” Blackwood said.

“I’ve done full-time childcare several times in my life,” Blackwood said, “It’s certainly not beneath us.”

Some physician families need help for their children with homework, some need full-time childcare. Some have found that their doggie day care closed or their dogwalker has quit, the women said.

Several other organizations have formed for medical students to pitch in. Some answer the question phone line, some make calls to tell people they tested positive. Some help decide which patients need help the soonest.

The organizations are listed at

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Kahan said the frontline of COVID-19 is everywhere. People who stay home are fighting the spread of the disease. People who isolate themselves when they’re sick, wash their hands frequently and sneeze into their elbow are also right on the frontline. People who bring groceries to neighbors, and look after the children of physicians, they’re also fighting.

The battleground is worldwide, and the community of those committed to winning the battle doesn’t need a hashtag to unite it.

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