When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many UNC health care students were unable to get the clinical experience they needed to prepare for a career in the medical field.
To help students graduate on time, UNC’s Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice created the Carolina COVID-19 Student Services Corps.
Kickstarted in March of 2020, this initiative helps students in health professions gain clinical experience by volunteering within the community. They had 55 students enrolled in the first corps, and eventually began seeing around 2,000 patients across the community.
“We knew that there was a need and the work that I do anytime a student can serve and be useful to a community while also learning and progressing in their problem, that’s a win,” said Meg Zomorodi, professor in the School of Nursing and assistant provost for the Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice.
Senior Anna Ilyasova, a health policy and management major, credits the Carolina CSSC with helping land her current national position with the American College Health Association Campus COVID-19 Vaccination and Mitigation Initiative.
“What I really appreciate about this service corps is that they also encourage students to do a lot of COVID-19-related service opportunities, even outside of the breadth of the service corps itself,” Ilyasova said. “I think that Carolina CSSC is such a community of driven students and people who support them to promote a kind of peer health initiative.”
Manas Tiwari, a senior majoring in biostatistics, is an executive board member of Carolina CSSC. He joined the corps in fall 2020. In his role, Tiwari has worked with other students to conduct COVID-19 testing on campus.
“This was really like my first student leader experience at this big of a scale,” Tiwari said. “The experience itself really showed me how difficult something this large-scale really is. It takes a lot of effort to really get something like this up and off the ground running, a lot of cooperation and collaboration between tons of different groups of people for this to really come together and work.”
In fall 2020, 800 students agreed to participate in the Carolina CSSC program. Since then, the program has grown, reaching about 1,500 students in the summer and currently consisting of about 1,800 members.
In total, volunteers have completed up to 27,000 hours of service to the UNC community, including students working at the COVID-19 testing centers and giving vaccination injections. Carolina CSSC won the George Thibault Nexus Award for Interprofessional Practice for its model of excellent collaboration.
“These students are carrying me and what they’re doing and they're just passionate for this University and for helping us all get through this pandemic," Zomorodi said.
If students are interested in joining Carolina CSSC, they can fill out a signup form.
“More things like this, where students can lead and be the change agents, you know, that’s what Carolina is about. That is what the Carolina way is,” Zomorodi said. “Our students come here to be able to serve and get back to the state and to get a good education. And I think the service corps highlights that.”
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