MD Student Scribes Ease Workload in GW Hospital ICU
When Mary Tsaturian, third-year MD student at the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), decided to work as a medical scribe after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, she had no way of knowing that the experience would give her a unique opportunity to help her community during an unprecedented public health crisis.
As the response to the COVID-19 pandemic grew in the Washington, D.C., region, Jeffrey Williams, MD, assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, saw a potential need for medical scribes to help ease the crushing workload facing physicians in the intensive care unit at GW Hospital. He realized SMHS students would fit the bill perfectly; they have medical knowledge and a strong desire to help support their community.
Tsaturian came across Williams’ volunteer listing for student scribes and immediately reached out to him.
“I ended up having a phone conversation with Dr. Williams that same evening,” she said. “The program was just an idea at that point, something they thought could be worth trying to pilot. Having told him about my prior experience, he offered me the opportunity to help establish the program, develop a workflow, and take on a leadership and management role.”
Tsaturian didn’t hesitate.
She spent the first day learning about health safety, being fitted for personal protective equipment (PPE), and learning about the needs in GW Hospital’s ICU.
“I started off observing rounds and noting how Dr. Williams was currently writing his notes,” she explained. “Afterward, we were able to discuss some details for me to flesh out their needs, and I felt ready to start trying it out myself.”
It wasn’t long before Tsaturian was helping train a handful of other student volunteers, showing them how to input information into the electronic health record, demonstrating the different workflows, and transferring her note template to the new scribes.
Williams noted the importance of keeping students safe, including by training them in the proper donning of PPE, as well as keeping them outside of the patients’ rooms.
The scribes, he explained, meet with the ICU team during rounding outside of a patient’s room, where the treatment plan is discussed. “They are able to take our attending documentation from the day before and then use the dialog the residents and attending are having [during rounding] and create a transcription of the care plan for the day,” he said.
That, he added, creates a brief and concise note of the most important parts of the care plan, which allows for better communication between providers.
Fourth-year MD student Timothy Muse has been volunteering as a scribe for a couple weeks.
He said it feels good to contribute to the pandemic response and support the attendings, giving them more time to spend on patient care, instead of focusing on note taking and charting.
“I’m going into psychiatry and interested in consult/liaison work,” he added, referring to his upcoming advancement to a medical resident, “and know that I’ll end up seeing a lot of patients in the ICU, so learning some of the terminology and seeing their approach is definitely important.”
Williams said as the response to the pandemic moves forward, they’ll assess to see if there’s a need to expand the training and bring in more volunteers.
“This is a novel way both to get people with early medical training into a clinical setting in a safe manner, and give them the opportunity to assist in GW’s response to the pandemic,” he said.