As most of Washington, D.C., slept during the early hours of Jan. 20, a group of George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) students made their way to the National Mall to assist with medical aid at the Presidential Inauguration.
As Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States, more than 130 volunteers from the GW medical community, including students, physicians from GW Medical Faculty Associates, nurses and doctors from GW Hospital, and faculty from Children’s National Health System, were on hand to provide medical care for inauguration attendees.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience; it was incredible to be that close to everything,” said Cody Schlaff, a second-year M.D. student who was one of the volunteers up before dawn to staff the medical aid stations near the Capitol Building. “To be able to walk through and have the official credentials to say ‘hey, I’m part of this event’ was really humbling.”
Schlaff, who also is a member of the Army, added that the opportunity to work with Department of Defense (DOD) military health care providers was an invaluable experience.
This wasn’t his first time volunteering at a large D.C. event; Schlaff assisted during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the District in 2015. Back then “I barely knew how to use my stethoscope,” he said. “This time when patients came in … I realized I know a lot more, and I feel more comfortable than I ever have. To use these experiences as a way to see my transformation is really cool.”
Students for the most part helped with patient tracking and assisting physicians in the aid tents. Their main role was to keep tabs on the number of patients being treated, the patients being transported to hospitals, and what resources were needed on site.
For Caitlin Ward, a third-year student in the joint physician assistant (P.A.)/master of public health (M.P.H.) program, working the inauguration offered the ability to work and learn alongside actively practicing professionals in an only-at-GW outside the classroom setting.
“It’s always kind of exciting and eye-opening to be able to go and witness a political event like this,” Ward said.
Kat Calabrese, M.D. ’08, RESD ’12, who served as medical director for GW’s operations at the inauguration and is an assistant professor in emergency medicine at SMHS, said everything went smoothly throughout the day — all thanks to the tireless efforts of the volunteers and months of planning that went into preparing for the inauguration.
“There was not a time during which we felt overwhelmed with patient flow,” Calabrese said. “But even though we were not always busy, the students were excited to be there, to support medical provision in the field, and to get the opportunity to integrate with government agencies.”
Drew Maurano, P.A.-C., unit leader for the D.C. Department of Health's Medical Reserve Corps, managed by the GW Medical Faculty Associates, and associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at SMHS, also praised the students for their hard work and positive attitudes.
“It really stood out to [the Department of Health and Human Services], DOD, and the Secret Service. Everybody was very impressed,” he said.
The Medical Reserve Corps, which helps to organize medical emergency care services for large-scale D.C. events like the inauguration, assisted in running 22 aid stations peppered throughout the Mall and near the Capitol, along with triage and treatment centers set up inside the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.
The museum-based centers were new additions to the medical services offered at the inauguration. “They ran very smoothly, and we were able to develop a great relationship with the Smithsonian through this,” Maurano said. “I think it’s something that will be looked at … to be used in other large-scale events.”
The Presidential Inauguration is just another example of the unique events that can only be found in D.C., said Murteza Shahkolahi, M.D., a third-year emergency medicine resident at SMHS.
“Being able to participate in these events that don’t happen anywhere else is exciting,” he said. “Every event is unique because you can't always anticipate what's going to happen, so we have to be ever vigilant and prepared."