Student view:

Kassem Makki: Volunteering at the VA

July 14, 2020

Kassem Makki is a fourth-year medical student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Makki, who is from the Detroit metro area, recently volunteered at the John Dingell VA Medical Center and for six weeks, assisted in the fight against COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic. He also received special commendation from the medical center for his volunteer work.

The John Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit is on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 crisis for veterans. With the many cases and deaths in Michigan over the past few months and the impact of COVID on the hospital, the organization needed to quickly create a COVID manpower pool of volunteers to help support health care workers and the veterans they serve.

I heard about this team while I was at home and, unfortunately, unable to participate in my normal rotations at the hospital due to the shutdown. I knew I had to do something to get past the anxiety of dealing with the crisis, so I reached out to the VA in Detroit and asked if there was anything I could do to help.

At the time, the manpower pool was comprised of Wayne State medical students, as well as some faculty. I was quickly added to the team, as an MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine student, and I hit the ground running.

I can’t say enough about the experience of being among the first-line of defense for the hospital, the veterans and the staff — it was was so rewarding and educational.

My job was to screen both employees and patients as they entered the building for symptoms, provide masks and escort those who had any signs of potential COVID infection to the ER. I saw firsthand the planning, staging and implementation of how a hospital reacted to the COVID pandemic and learned so much about how to manage the flow of staff and patients safely, while helping prevent the spread of the virus.

I will never forget the countless number of veterans that we helped. Even better, how they felt comfortable communicating with us because of our medical training. Often times, we were able to help relieve some of the anxiety they were feeling, too. Our work also helped hospital employees – many of whom had taken extra time out of their workday to help with screening, but instead were able to return to their regular jobs because we were there.

All of it was inspiring.

Volunteering at the VA and helping veterans has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. I have met and worked with tremendous people on the COVID team, through shadowing opportunities and in the research department.

As a result of the great success with the COVID-19 manpower pool initiative, the VA Medical Center in Detroit has offered even more medical student opportunities to volunteer and gain valuable experience while serving America’s heroes. I urge all of my fellow classmates looking to help and volunteer, to consider this experience.

For more information about this opportunity, contact Ms. Teresza Fields-Montgomery at teresza.fields@va.gov.