Med student Janine Cadet at White Memorial Medical Center, with some of the devices donated for patients.

When Janine Cadet heard about Connect for COVID-19, an organization that collects electronic devices and distributes them to hospitals so people can stay in touch with loved ones while they battle the virus, she knew she had to take part. Cadetand her fellow second-year medical students at the Keck School of Medicine of USC connected with a similar group at UCLA. “It was great to be able to do something in this time that felt fruitful, and felt like I was helping,” Cadet says.

The team was able to use the Biggy parking structure as a way to do a contact-free donation drive: People could drive up and drop devices like iPads and phone into boxes with a parking attendant nearby. They collected about 50 devices through the donation drive and from the USC Global Medicine program – devices that they have delivered to two local hospitals for use by COVID-19 patients. Cadet had previously been doing research on loneliness in the safety net health system, so this project hit a personal note for her. “We already found that 25-30 percent of the in-patient population identifies as lonely,” she says. “Coronavirus just added to that.”

It’s just one of the ways that Keck School of Medicine is giving back to the local community. Across campus, students and staff are finding creative ways to make a difference. 

Another way medical students are using their skills to help others is through Age Friendly Student Senior Connections, a program that helps seniors who have become isolated because of the pandemic. Students are paired with seniors in the community and have daily check-ins, so they can talk about COVID-19, provide referrals, and offer a friendly connection while social distancing measures are in place – even teaching the seniors how to use FaceTime and other communication tools. These relationships serve the dual purpose of teaching students about aging and combatting loneliness in the community. Older people can be especially isolated at this time, so seeing a friendly face each day is very welcome.

The Keck School is also deepening connections in the community through the student volunteer opportunities system. Some of the services provided by student volunteers include tutoring children of health workers, distributing food to the elderly (1,400 deliveries and more than 8,000 meals served weekly), and student-led wellness calls to support mental health.

The school has also developed a platform to match up donations received – from individual donors and Keck School of Medicine departments and faculty – with community needs. For example, Keck provided PPE to LA County Hospital; flashlights, clothes and dental kits to the Street Medicine program; and books and crayons to the children in the Grab-&-Go food program.

Getting reliable information to the community is also a vital part of the school’s mission during the pandemic. Keck medical students are translating COVID-19 material into a dozen different languages.

From left: Carlos Armenta, Rene Zamorano and Giovanni Lara from human-I-T gather up desks to be donated.

As the school upgraded its own desks in the medical school classrooms, Facilities saw an opportunity to continue to give back: KSOM donated 385 very heavy steel desks that were no longer needed. The school partnered with the nonprofit human-I-T, an organization that provides low-income individuals and nonprofits with technology, internet, and digital training, to move and sell the desks. The revenue generated from Keck School’s removed desks helped dozens of local students and families. Human-I-T has been working with most USC schools and departments since 2016, taking in hundreds of thousands of pounds of e-waste and assisting hundreds of families.

For Cadet, the work has highlighted how the school has consistently supported community efforts during the crisis. “Everyone we reached out to was excited and willing to connect us with people,” she says. “It shows that USC really important to be involved in community efforts and really give back to the community where they are.”

Visit the COVID-19 Volunteer Opportunity section of the KSOM intranet to get involved.

— by Katharine Gammon