Stronger Together: How College of Osteopathic Medicine Students Are Fighting COVID-19


By: Julia Malacoff

In the face of great need, it’s natural to want to help. That’s how Courtney Merlo, class of 2023, got involved in the effort to give back. When she heard that a group of resident physicians in the area were spending their day off looking for personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as surgical masks, gloves and gowns, she knew she had to do something.

“It seemed crazy to me that they had to do this on their day off,” Merlo said. It sparked an idea. “As medical students, we have time in between our classes and coursework, especially as we're moving to an online format, to help medical personnel with this.”

It turned out, another one of Merlo’s fellow students, Rebecca Gorz, a third-year clerkship student, had a similar idea to start a PPE drive.

Together, Gorz and Merlo began working with the Michigan Osteopathic Association to get the drive started and have recruited several on-campus organizations to help, including the Student Osteopathic Medical Association, the Emergency Medicine Club, the Internal Medicine Club and clerkship students. Student volunteers are contacting dentists’ offices, physical therapy practices and other organizations that may have PPE available. Uniquely, the students are offering to go out and pick up donations, following no-contact safety guidelines, making it as easy as possible for people to donate.

Once supplies are collected, students drop them at a Michigan Community Service Commission site, ensuring that the PPE will be distributed in-state.

“We wanted to make sure this was helping doctors, nurses and all health care personnel on the front lines in our state,” Merlo said.

In addition to PPE efforts, Spartan Street Medicine is helping to bridge the gap in health care for those experiencing homelessness in the community. Normally, the organization utilizes student and faculty volunteers to provide health care services at several community locations. Due to the current situation, this in-person care is no longer an option.

But while the homeless population always has unique and important health care needs, the gap is particularly wide right now.

“A lot of the patients that we normally see may not have a great way to actually access information right now,” explained Carly Suriano, class of 2023 and a member of the organization’s e-board.

She also indicated that because many patients have pre-existing health issues that need attention despite the ongoing global health crisis, the pressure to keep patients out of the emergency room if at all possible has never been greater.

Thanks to the organization’s faculty advisors and the willingness and dedication of its medical student volunteers, Suriano said the necessary infrastructure for telemedicine consults was set up swiftly. Now, people experiencing homelessness have access to video appointments at both City Rescue Mission and Homeless Angels, with plans to expand these capabilities to other locations.

Elsewhere in the community, efforts to help started as early as March 11, when Kate Hammond, the 2023 student class president, was asked to gather a group of around five students to volunteer. They were needed to answer phone calls on a triage line to help screen potential COVID-19 patients. Within a matter of days, 100 students from all three of MSU’s health colleges had volunteered to help.

Now, student volunteers are working on a rotating schedule, answering calls as they come in to share information and help community members decide what their next steps should be if they or a loved one are experiencing symptoms.

Hammond said she’s been impressed and inspired by how quickly her fellow students mobilized once she reached out.

“They never had a second thought about it. They just asked me what needed to be done.”

If you’re a licensed physician associated with MSU and would like to volunteer to help supervise medical students in the Spartan Street Medicine telemedicine program, contact Jennifer Miller at


Photo Caption: Spartan Street Medicine volunteers, Dr. Taylor Scott and Dr. Michelle Loubert with the College of Osteopathic Medicine, along with Randy Barton with the City Rescue Mission of Lansing, test their telemedicine capabilities to help care for underserved populations.