Medical Students and Doctors Get Creative Against COVID-19 Fight

Medical Students and Doctors Get Creative Against COVID-19 Fight


The rapid spread of COVID-19 has put immense pressure on healthcare systems worldwide, leading to a critical shortage of medical personnel. In response, both retired and active healthcare professionals, as well as medical students, have stepped up in various capacities to support the fight against the pandemic. Additionally, the concept of coproduction in professional education, particularly significant in the health sphere, highlights the collaborative efforts among educators, students, healthcare professionals, and the community in crafting and delivering educational programs. This strategy enriches the learning journey by weaving in practical insights and addressing real-world challenges, ensuring that the curriculum remains closely aligned with the shifting demands of the healthcare landscape and broader societal needs. Coproduction champions a dynamic, responsive, and inclusive educational model, paving the way for the development of healthcare professionals who are not only highly competent but also capable of adapting to future challenges.

Coproduction in Medical Education Amid COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged at the end of 2019, it swiftly disrupted traditional medical education globally. The onset of the pandemic led to the World Health Organization declaring it a global crisis by March 2020, with the University of Minnesota and other institutions quickly transitioning to non-traditional education models, including halting in-person instruction and clinical rotations. This shift was a response to various challenges, including risks to students, staff, and patients, a scarcity of personal protective equipment, and the logistics of clinical education during lockdowns. The pandemic’s impact was profound, with over 80% of U.S. medical schools removing students from clinical settings by April 2020. Amidst these disruptions, the concept of coproduction in medical education gained prominence. Originally from the service industry, coproduction in the health education context involves a collaborative approach where faculty and students work together to navigate challenges, such as continuing education and contributing to the pandemic response. This article details the implementation of a coproduction model at one institution, underscoring its effectiveness in maintaining educational continuity and preparing for future challenges, demonstrating its potential as a resilient framework for medical education in post-pandemic scenarios.

Transforming Medical Education: The Shift to Coproduction

Over recent decades, healthcare’s conceptual framework has shifted from a paternalistic model, where health was viewed as a product delivered by providers to patients, to a more service-dominant model emphasizing mutual production of healthcare outcomes through patient-professional interaction. This paradigm shift towards coproduction in healthcare, as described by Batalden et al., underscores a collaborative process tailored to meet patients’ needs within their community and societal context. In this evolving model, both patients and healthcare providers contribute their unique expertise towards achieving optimal health outcomes, challenging the traditional, one-directional delivery of medical services. Yet, the concept of healthcare coproduction has not been fully mirrored in medical education, where a top-down, product-focused approach still prevails, prioritizing quantitative results over the cultivation of critical skills such as communication and shared decision-making.

The application of the coproduction model to health professions education, highlighted by Englander et al., promotes a transformative partnership between students and teachers, valuing both students’ experiences and educators’ knowledge. This collaborative educational framework promotes adaptability, inclusivity, and personal growth, equipping students to become self-directed learners and future healthcare leaders capable of navigating the complexities of modern medical practice. By integrating community insights into curriculum development and emphasizing high-value learning, the coproduction model promises to cultivate physicians who are prepared to contribute meaningfully to high-value healthcare delivery. The pandemic era has accelerated the adoption of this model, highlighting its effectiveness in ensuring that medical education remains responsive and resilient amidst unprecedented challenges.

Advancing Coproduction at the University of Minnesota Medical School

The University of Minnesota Medical School, an institution recognized by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, follows the standard U.S. medical training structure with a blend of pre-clinical and clinical studies. The school’s dedication to coproducing education predates the pandemic, aiming to foster a community that prepares exceptional physicians. Its strategic plan, initiated in 2018, focuses on empowering students and individualizing learning pathways, with objectives like involving students in decision-making processes and co-designing curricula. This commitment has led to students becoming voting members on key committees and participating in the design of courses and clerkships. Notably, the school introduced six longitudinal integrated clerkship options, allowing students to build enduring relationships with faculty and patients in diverse healthcare settings. These innovations, rooted in the school’s longstanding tradition of coproduction, positioned it to effectively navigate educational reforms during the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring a successful model of student empowerment and tailored learning experiences.

Effective Communication and Student Engagement Amidst COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Minnesota Medical School rapidly evolved its communication methods to foster a coproduced educational environment. Initial reliance on email quickly gave way to more personal, «face-to-face» interactions via digital platforms, recognizing the critical need for direct engagement with student concerns. At a macrosystem level, the dean initiated weekly forums featuring a panel of experts across various domains to address the community’s questions and concerns, complemented by a command center to address educational issues promptly. This setup was supported by frequent Zoom meetings across the academic health center and key affiliate sites, ensuring a cohesive approach to navigating the pandemic’s challenges.

At the mesosystem level, regular class-specific forums and meetings allowed students to share insights on their learning disruptions, facilitating a sense of community and continuity, particularly for those transitioning to clinical clerkships. The establishment of COVID Action Panels (CAPs), comprising students from each year, exemplified the school’s commitment to inclusive decision-making. These panels worked closely with administrative and educational leaders to co-create curriculum changes and address student concerns in a democratic manner, influencing policies on rotation schedules and virtual learning to accommodate the pandemic’s realities. This strategic communication and engagement framework ensured that education remained adaptive, inclusive, and responsive to the unprecedented circumstances presented by COVID-19.

MNCOVIDsitters: Bridging Community Needs and Medical Education

The University of Minnesota Medical School students, already engaged in service learning, quickly adapted to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Recognizing the acute need for childcare among healthcare workers due to statewide closures of schools and daycares, they founded MNCOVIDsitters. This initiative not only provided essential support to frontline healthcare workers but also garnered significant attention, leading to the establishment of similar programs nationwide. The success of MNCOVIDsitters prompted students to seek academic recognition for their contributions, resulting in the development of innovative courses in partnership with the medical school’s administration. These courses, the COVID-19 Innovation Lab and COVID-19 Service Learning Elective, were designed to formalize the students’ service efforts into credit-bearing educational experiences. This collaboration between students and administration exemplifies a win-win scenario, enhancing medical education through real-world service and leadership opportunities while addressing urgent community needs during the pandemic. The website serves as a central hub for this initiative, detailing their mission to support healthcare workers by providing childcare and showcasing the widespread impact of their efforts. Through this platform, the organization has effectively coordinated volunteer efforts and expanded its reach, illustrating the significant role of digital communication in facilitating community service during the pandemic.

Mobilizing Retired Healthcare Workers in the COVID-19 Response

It’s worth mentioning, that the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the crucial role of retired healthcare professionals in bolstering crisis response efforts, exemplified by Dr. Judy Salerno, a retired physician from New York, who quickly stepped forward to volunteer.

This mobilization of the retired healthcare workforce addressed the looming shortage of medical staff as the pandemic escalated, with many states loosening licensing regulations to facilitate their return. Despite the inherent risks associated with age and potential comorbidities, retired professionals like Salerno, motivated by a sense of duty and the ability to contribute their valuable skills, stepped forward. This initiative was part of a broader strategy to bolster the healthcare system, which also included reevaluating the roles of medical students and considering the integration of internationally trained physicians. Public health experts and educators, recognizing the urgency, adapted educational models and explored all avenues to mitigate the shortage of healthcare providers. The engagement of retired professionals, alongside the innovative contributions from medical students, exemplified a multifaceted approach to addressing the healthcare challenges posed by the pandemic, demonstrating the critical role of experienced healthcare workers in crisis management and the importance of flexibility in medical licensing and education during unprecedented times.

Navigating Pandemic Fatigue and Sustaining Engagement in Coproduction

The concept of «pandemic fatigue» has permeated discussions in popular media, reflecting a decline in the public’s adherence to physical distancing and hygiene practices over time. This trend has similarly affected student participation in initiatives like the COVID Action Panel and MNCOVIDsitters. As students settled into more predictable routines and developed clearer expectations for the future, their involvement in these coproduced programs decreased, shifting their focus to other professional pursuits. Despite this decline, a core group of students remains actively engaged in shaping their educational experiences, suggesting a baseline rate of participation in educational coproduction. This enduring involvement underscores the adaptability of students and the potential for coproduction to meet acute needs in future crises. The experience gained from the initial stages of the pandemic provides valuable insights into maintaining participation and leveraging coproduction for addressing emerging challenges effectively.

Advancing Through Coproduction in Post-Pandemic Education

As schools nationwide strive to adapt to the evolving educational landscape in the aftermath of COVID-19, the uncertainty of the future demands innovative approaches. While some institutions might lean towards autocratic decision-making for its simplicity and speed, this approach often falls short due to its narrow focus and lack of foresight. The University of Minnesota Medical School’s experience with coproduction in medical education and healthcare delivery has showcased the model’s ability to inject new ideas and vitality into addressing pandemic-related challenges. Coproduction brings together diverse perspectives to tackle complex issues without clear-cut solutions, offering a more comprehensive and inclusive way forward. It has proven effective in navigating the initial hurdles posed by COVID-19 and now poses a solution to emerging questions, such as integrating first-year students into a virtual community, preparing students for residency applications, and developing essential skills for future physicians. By fostering mutual trust and collaboration between students, faculty, preceptors, and the wider community, coproduction paves the way for transforming challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation in medical education.


The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed an extraordinary response from the medical community, underscoring the vital role of innovation and collaboration in navigating unprecedented challenges. Initiatives like MNCOVIDsitters exemplify how medical students and doctors have transcended traditional roles, addressing acute community needs while enriching their educational and professional experiences. This spirit of volunteerism, coupled with the strategic implementation of coproduction in medical education, has not only facilitated continuity in learning amidst disruptions but also laid the groundwork for a more resilient, adaptive, and inclusive approach to healthcare training. The experiences garnered during this period, from mobilizing retired healthcare workers to integrating digital platforms for effective communication, have highlighted the importance of flexibility, community engagement, and the co-creation of solutions. As the medical education landscape evolves post-pandemic, these lessons will be instrumental in shaping future curricula that are responsive to the needs of both the healthcare system and society at large, ensuring that the next generation of healthcare professionals is well-equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.