Students4Hospitals, when students are ready to network

Rahel Schmidt
Rahel Schmidt

Institutional Communication Service

8 July 2020

A group of medical students at ETH Zurich took action during the critical phase of the COVID-19 health emergency by setting up "Students4Hospitals", an online platform designed to enable students from various Faculties from all over Switzerland to volunteer to help hospitals, research labs, retirement homes and institutions in need of non-healthcare personnel to deal with the situation. One of the creators of this initiative is Rahel Schmidt, a student who will begin her Master's degree in human medicine at USI in September and who is currently doing an internship in Bellinzona at the cellular immunology laboratory directed by Prof. Federica Sallusto at the Institute for Research in Biomedical (IRB, affiliated to USI).

As soon as the ETH decided to close the campus due to the emergency, a number of students were contacted by various healthcare institutions to make up for the shortage of staff and help with the newly required medical entrance controls. This was the case with Rahel Schmidt, who was immediately assigned to the Kantonsspital in Baden. This experience led her and her companion Luca Schaufelberger to reflect on how students studying at home in eLearning mode could also invest their time to serve society. On March 15, thanks to the encouragement of ETH Professor Jörg Goldhahn, they decided to create the Students4Hospitals project. With an interdisciplinary team of about 40 students the platform was soon online: students could register to offer their help as non-healthcare staff and a task force was immediately ready to mediate volunteers to the institutions that requested support. "Our goal," explains Rahel, "was to bring students (who do not study medicine) to provide their helping hand with a variety of tasks caused by the pandemic, including controlling the entrances, disinfecting the visitor areas, supporting the workshops, or even spending time with lonely elderly people". After months of great activity the results are positive: "If I think back to those days I am happy to say that our initiative has had an impact: we helped more than 20 healthcare institutions thanks to the action of a hundred students. The feedback received was very positive, both for the institutions and for the volunteers," says Rahel.

When students network, they can create important initiatives like this one, which arised during the emergency but can last over time: Rahel and Luca are already thinking of organising an event in October and November on the subject of vaccinations, involving the Student4Hospital team. However, Rahel has several challenges awaiting her, involving also Ticino. In fact, she is already in Bellinzona doing an internship at the IRB, and in September she will come to Lugano to start the Master in Human Medicine with great expectations: "I hope to find interactive learning methods, with professors open to answer our questions and to enable us to think 'outside the box'". Rahel wants to reconcile her goal of becoming a doctor with her research interests in the field of cellular immunology, which she is learning now during her internship. "I would like to contribute to develop and strengthen the links between Ticino and the other linguistic regions of the country, also from a cultural point of view", she concludes. The student already has many ideas in the pipeline and is ready to make Italian-speaking part of Switzerland her new home.