Transforming Disruption into Innovation: A Partnership Between the COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team and the University of British Columbia

Acad Med. 2021 May 11. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004156. Online ahead of print.


The COVID-19 pandemic caused substantial disruptions in medical education. The University of British Columbia (UBC) MD Undergraduate Program (MDUP) is the sixth largest medical school in North America. MDUP students and faculty developed a joint response to these disruptions to address the curriculum and public health challenges that the pandemic posed. After clinical activities were suspended in March 2020, third- and fourth-year MDUP students formed a COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team (MSRT) to support frontline physicians, public health agencies, and community members affected by the pandemic. A nimble organizational structure was developed across 4 UBC campuses to ensure a rapid response to meet physician and community needs. Support from the faculty ensured the activities were safe for the public, patients, and students and facilitated the provision of curricular credit for volunteer activities meeting academic criteria. As of June 19, 2020, more than 700 medical students had signed up to participate in 68 projects. The majority of students participated in projects supporting the health care system, including performing contact tracing, staffing public COVID-19 call centers, distributing personal protective equipment, and creating educational multimedia products. Many initiatives have been integrated into the MDUP curriculum as scholarly activities or paraclinical electives for which academic credit is awarded. This was made possible by the inherent flexibility of the MDUP curriculum and a strong existing partnership between students and faculty. Through this process, medical students were able to develop fundamental leadership, advocacy, communication, and collaboration skills, essential competencies for graduating physicians. In developing a transparent, accountable, and inclusive organization, students were able to effectively meet community needs during a crisis and create a sustainable and democratic structure capable of responding to future emergencies. Open dialogue between the MSRT and the faculty allowed for collaborative problem solving and the opportunity to transform disruption into academic innovation.