Health departments with limited resources during a public health emergency struggle to ensure they have enough support to respond effectively. Reliance on community volunteers to augment health department staffing has its challenges given that volunteers often have primary responsibilities that preclude them from reliably reporting in times of need. In an article titled “Harnessing the Expertise and Enthusiasm of University Students for Assistance in Disasters” published in the Journal of Emergency Management, Dr. Medcalf and colleagues, report on a student response team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. The team of graduate students was created for three specific scenarios: epidemiology outbreak assistance, points of dispensing (POD) assistance, and monitoring social media in a disaster. Graduate students in public health are an overlooked volunteer resource. Many have prior work experience and are eager for the opportunity to gain additional practical experience. Requesting agencies gain access to a dependable, replenishable volunteer pool.
The authors conclude: “The possibilities are endless for engaging student teams to assist organizations in emergencies, given that student populations at universities are replenished on a continual basis. The mutually beneficial models presented here are replicable in any institutions of higher learning. University students from all disciplines are an untapped resource across the nation. All schools and colleges of public health are encouraged to create their own teams to serve their local communities, and academic medical centers across the country should strive to provide valuable healthcare professions student expertise in a public health emergency.”Friday Letter Submission, Publish on September 13