Undergraduate students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Office of Public Health Studies of the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work had the opportunity to volunteer with the Hawaiʻi Department of Health through Oʻahu’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this challenging time, students were able to complete their spring semester gaining valuable public health experience while giving back to the community.
Students worked in the call center for Aloha United Way and Hawaiʻi Department of Health Disease Investigation Branch, and helped assemble personal protective equipment. Volunteers also provided daily wellness checks on individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 who were in quarantine. These individuals did not have a social support system and were primarily visitors who became “stranded” in Hawaiʻi after becoming ill.
Volunteering with Oʻahu’s MRC gave students the opportunity to complete their APLE (Applied Learning Experience) hours, which are required to graduate with a BA in public health. Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, only volunteer telework hours could count toward students’ APLE hours.
Continuing to make a difference
Tiffany Marquez, a public health undergraduate student, became the liaison between student volunteers, UH Mānoa’s Public Health Practicum Coordinator Lisa Kehl and Oʻahu’s MRC Coordinator Marjorie Tayao. Due to Marquez’s outstanding leadership and attention to detail, she was hired as the COVID-19 Surge Assistant for Oʻahu’s MRC after completing her APLE internship.
“COVID-19 has definitely made us find creative ways to complete our APLE hours,” said Marquez. “I am forever grateful for the learning experience I have attained while interning with the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Oʻahu’s MRC. They accepted me with open arms and lots of aloha. It is a great honor and privilege to serve the community, especially during a pandemic.”
Public health undergraduate students Anna Davide and Dallas McCulloch were both volunteers with Oʻahu’s MRC. Through this experience, Davide and McCulloch have been able to observe the day-to-day work of public health nurses, contracts and administration, and have been given the opportunity to continue their volunteer work after completing the semester.
“I am having a good experience volunteering for the MRC,” said Davide. “It helps me gain experience in my chosen career path and gives me a venue to be useful in a stressful time. The people who run MRC keep us well trained, and I intend to stay on as long as I am on island.”
“While COVID-19 is a tragic situation around the world, this is exactly what aspiring public health professionals are training for,” said McCulloch. “I have been given a rare opportunity to be in the thick of everything during a global pandemic.”
—By Sarah Hendrix