Rachel Reardon is an MD candidate at Harvard Medical School. Pooja Chandrashekar is an MD candidate at Harvard Medical School. Rachel Conrad, M.D., is a fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Picture credit: https://covid19healthliteracyproject.com/
The COVID-19 pandemic instantaneously upended how medical students live, work, and learn. While hospitals scrambled to plan for the pandemic, US medical schools removed medical students from clinical clerkships. No longer serving in a clinical context, many medical students sought opportunities related to advocacy and outreach.
The COVID-19 Health Literacy Project (HLP) was founded by a Harvard Medical School student, and executed by a team of students from 30 medical schools around the country. The goal of the project was to create and translate accessible, evidence-based, and expert-reviewed COVID-19 information into different languages to ensure non-English speaking communities were not left on the sidelines of this global pandemic. These materials were produced in collaboration with Harvard Health Publishing.
The project identified an unmet need in materials designed for children. While COVID-19 causes less severe illness in children, uncertainty and stress from the pandemic may significantly impact children. Furthermore, children’s cooperation with social distancing is critical to containment. To address these gaps, we created developmentally-appropriate, accurate, and reassuring information for children. The resources were reviewed by nine specialists from fields including pediatrics, child psychiatry, child psychology and public health and then made available for free online.
Students reviewed literature pertaining to COVID-19 and learned to draw on principles of education theory to present this information in a manner accessible to a pediatric audience. In addition, students learned the importance of developmental appropriateness and incorporating a trauma-informed approach when crafting materials for children as they worked with reviewers and mentors. Finally, students learned and practiced critical professional skills. Over the course of the project, students navigated conversations with healthcare professionals, academic medical centers, and publishers. Effective interprofessional communication was critical to rapidly produce high-quality materials in the wake of a public health crisis.
This project offered medical students a critical opportunity to immerse themselves in activism during a challenging experience. While unable to participate in direct patient care, they effectively leveraged existing knowledge, skills, and resources to address gaps in health literacy and produce some of the first pediatric-focused COVID-19 education materials. In addition to serving marginalized patient populations, the medical students reduced their own risk of psychological stress associated with the loss of structured daily activities, social isolation and potential trauma of a public health emergency. They learned new skills, created novel and developmentally-appropriate educational materials, and promoted their own resilience through a project based on collaboration, communication, and altruism.
View resources from the Health Literacy Project at covid19healthliteracyproject.com