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VCU medical students provide babysitting and pet sitting to health care workers fighting COVID-19

Smiling people holding signs that read "Thank You Healthcare Workers! Love, VCU Childcare Co-op

More than 90 medical students in the VCU School of Medicine are volunteering to babysit and pet sit for VCU health care workers, such as doctors, nurses, residents, fellows and others directly helping patients.

The volunteers are members of a new student organization called the VCU Childcare Co-op, which is supporting health care workers serving on the front line against COVID-19.

“So far, our volunteers have helped more than 20 families, and together, we have donated more than 250 hours in total in caring for the children of our health care workers,” said Annie Yang, a VCU medical student in the class of 2023 and co-founder of the organization.

Reality hits as social distancing takes root

As classes transitioned online in early March, the students “all felt the jolt of reality and realized how serious this pandemic has hit our own community,” Yang said. While adhering to social distancing guidelines, they wanted to find ways to help.

“As medical students we have already been working closely with the health care professionals, and naturally, we thought about relieving the burden of our health care workers first,” Yang continued. “As we began to contact a few faculty members at VCU, we quickly realized that there was an urgent need for child care as many child care services began to close, and that’s when we knew that we need to build this organization and build it as quickly as possible.”

The students are using spreadsheets and forms to match families with volunteers based on location, special needs and “extra-help needs” such as homework and hobbies.

“It takes a lot of hard work to coordinate and finesse the organization,” Yang said. “But we are constantly encouraged by our providers with their kind words for our service.”

Services needed and appreciated

A note from a VCU Health nurse thanked three student volunteers who babysat her and her husband’s two daughters.

“They were incredibly kind and motivated to help out in whatever way they could!” the nurse wrote. “Although I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting them face to face, all my husband could keep repeating was, ‘these are good people, they are so nice!’ I'm encouraged by the fortunate glimpse I have been able to see of our future doctors!”

Without rotations, students have more time to give

The idea to provide child care for VCU health care workers originated with VCU medical student Gaby Obedoza, who suggested it in her class group chat in early March.

“I wanted to start something like the VCU Childcare Co-op because I was frustrated with how little I felt that we were able to contribute to the COVID-19 response efforts,” Obedoza said. “With the move to online courses and the cessation of clinical rotations, I felt like this was simply an extended spring break for many people when, in reality, we're entering a service profession aimed at helping people. I wanted to utilize our newly gained free time to give back to our health care providers through a mutual aid project.”

Yang is gratified by the support she's received from her fellow students and awestruck by the dedication of the clinical community. 

"I want to tell all the front-line health care workers that they’re so courageous and selfless, and we as medical students are here to support them whenever they need us.”

Contact VCU Childcare Co-op

For more information or to contact the VCU Childcare Co-op, email vcuchildcarecoop@gmail.com.