Back in March, Dr. Seth Cohen, the medical director of Infection Prevention & Employee Health and clinic chief of Infectious Disease & Travel Medicine at UWMC Northwest, approached the UW School of Medicine with an idea: to create a project to highlight the phenomenal work done by the UW Medicine family in the face of COVID-19.
A few medical students jumped at the opportunity—undertaking the mission to amplify the gratitude felt by the UW community for everyone at the epicenter of the COVID response. Within a few days of first meeting with Dr. Cohen, the students had launched Together UW. The Whole U caught up with Asmaa El-Ghazali, a medical student involved in the project, to learn more about this internal grassroots effort to communicate the stories of UW Medicine to the wider world.
What are some of the advantages of having a platform that is by staff, for staff? What role or function do you hope Together UW will serve?
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 response at UW, there has been an outpouring of support for frontline workers. With our social media efforts, which seeks submissions from UW staff, we hope to highlight nurses, respiratory therapists, virologists, support staff, physicians, and many others in ways that makes them feel appreciated and supported.
“Through the platform, we hope to amplify the feeling of community in the time of physical distancing, which can be extremely isolating. Of course, in case anyone missed that Lizzo bought UW Medicine employees lunch, we had to make sure everyone found out.”
Together UW is run by UW School of Medicine students & faculty and is not an official channel of UW Medicine. How many people are involved and how do you balance your efforts with already busy work days?
“Our team also consists of Dr. Seth Cohen, Haya Jamali, Belle Ngo, Rue Oliver, Allison Rollins, Wesley Steeb, and many more supporting figures. This is a reliable, invested team. We have one person overseeing each social media account, website, and email. There are a lot of different ways to get us content, but we have enough eyes to make sure nothing slips through the cracks!
“Our project officially launched to UW Medicine in last week’s campus-wide newsletter. Since then, we’ve had many people reach out and share their support. The fact that the content is generated by the community makes it much easier for us to do our job. We are simply here to amplify and encourage gratitude sharing!”
What are some examples of “actions large and small” that you want the wider UW community to celebrate?
“There’s a lot of really amazing work being done at UW Medicine right now. Students from across disciplines are finding new ways to support UW Medicine’s COVID response and the community as a whole, everyday. On the first day of my medical school orientation, we were told that we weren’t here by chance, but we’re here to answer a calling. A calling to serve, to heal, and to grow as learners. As students, we may not be in the hospitals, but we have aspired to find other ways to serve.
“As soon as the pandemic started and medical students were pulled out of clinics, a group mobilized to prepare and deliver Home Care Kits. These kits are made for positive patients or patients unable to leave their homes and without a means of social support. More information on how to support this project can be found under the “More Gratitude” tab.
“In addition to all of the tremendous clinical and non-clinical work done within UW Medicine facilities, there have been several volunteer efforts aiming to serve historically marginalized communities in the region. We have students and staff volunteering with Seattle/King County Clinic. We have students working on ways to help deliver medications to those unable to leave their homes during this pandemic. We have folks leading educational efforts within their own communities to combat the misinformation spread about COVID-19 on social media. The list goes on!”
Has anything unexpected or surprising arisen from Together UW’s efforts?
“It’s been awesome to highlight the generosity of local restaurants and businesses supporting UW Medicine. It is especially meaningful that our community has stepped up in these uncertain times, and many of them have, without hesitation, donated food to sustain our hardworking UW Medicine staff. We love you Seattle!
“Some of the most charming submissions we’ve seen have come from the @covidsocks Instagram account. Run by HMC nurse Katie Hammond, this account celebrates the bright and cheery socks that healthcare workers are wearing at the hospital. The funky socks are always a delight to see, and we’re happy that the UW Medicine community is finding reasons to smile in the face of adversity.”
What’s one outcome, moving moment, or insight gleaned from this effort?
“Working on this project and amplifying voices on Twitter has led to moments of deep pride for UWSOM and its clinician educators. The educators who taught us the very basics of medicine are the clinicians at the forefront of the national response to COVID19, and we are in awe of them.
“Watching their efforts be highlighted and amplified by their co-workers demonstrates that their skills extend beyond the classroom into the clinical world, and we feel deeply fortunate to be learning from them. Now, more so than ever, we are seeing greater appreciation for non-clinical staff members who are often unrecognized in the eyes of the public.
“Together UW has given us a moment to pause and recognize that we are operating as a united front. Our teamwork is what makes us great. Here at UWSOM, we are training with the best!”
We love Rue Oliver’s illustrations associated with the site. What’s their connection to UW Medicine?
“Rue Oliver is a second year medical student and a local artist who’s done work for DC Health & Human Services, Sylvia’s Alliance, Q Med, Transforming Queer Health Conference, iQ Health, Adolescent Medicine Epidemiology Manuscripts, and several contract work with Seattle hospitals. You can find more of his work on Instagram @ruemaiaoliver or his website on www.ruemaiaoliver.com.”
Who else deserves a shoutout as part of Together UW’s work?
“Everyone involved in this project is also involved in other service initiatives, which says a lot about the quality of individuals that we’ve had the pleasure of working with.
“We also want to recognize the tremendous efforts done outside of UW Medicine to serve the community. A noteworthy example is Muslim Community Resource Center (MCRC) Seattle, an organization which aids those with financial, housing, or food insecurities. Following the request for PPE from the medical community, their clinic donated all of its PPE to local hospitals and has transitioned to telemed visits for low income and uninsured individuals. They have also sponsored meals for over 600 students within the Bellevue school district. Truly fantastic efforts!
“This global pandemic has put out a call for the best of society to step up and lead the initiatives to combat the virus. Similar to the response of many institutions and community organizations across the globe, we can say with certainty that our classmates, faculty, staff, and mentors at UWSOM are among the leaders that stepped up to answer that call.”