June 17, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation this spring, and the UF College of Medicine responded swiftly by sending its students home. With clinical rotations canceled and classes held virtually, fourth-year medical student Lauren Lautenslager knew she needed to find a way to continue lending her service to those who need it most.
She found an outlet for her skills in logistical organization, communication and teamwork through the UF chapter of the COVID-19 Student Service Corps. Originally designed by students and faculty at Columbia University, the corps aims to support health systems, patients, the workforce and the communities facing the COVID-19 pandemic through facilitating interprofessional student service-learning projects.
As the class of 2021 co-chair in the corps’ oversight committee, Lautenslager acts as a liaison between local community organizations and a growing team of student volunteers. The role has provided her with meaningful, in-the-field experiences such as participating in COVID-19 testing efforts across Gainesville, babysitting children of UF Health physicians and participating in Zoom calls with members of other Student Service Corps chapters at universities across the nation.
“A lot of us go into medicine because we get innate satisfaction from pouring ourselves out into others,” Lautenslager says. “Sometimes in medical school, you don’t see the big picture of how your efforts are benefitting others. Volunteering in the community through the Student Service Corps is a humbling, rewarding reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing. It has given us a unique sense of purpose.”
Lautenslager is a recipient of the William R. Rambo, Sr. Scholarship in Medicine, a fund established in 1998 through a bequest made by Rachel Rambo Cowley in memory of her father to support students in the UF College of Medicine. Lautenslager calls the scholarship “an amazing and unexpected blessing” that allows her to pursue her passion for serving others through medicine.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the donors and the college who invest in me and believe in me as a student,” she says. “What they’ve given me inspires me and enables me to pay it forward to a future medical student as soon as I can.”
After rotating through several clinical care settings in her third year of medical school and finding joy in treating each and every patient population, Lautenslager has decided on a career in plastic surgery.
“With every clinical rotation, there was something new I enjoyed, from loving the crazy things pediatric patients say and leaving my shifts laughing to listening to a patient’s concerns and explaining things in such a way that the patient felt empowered to make decisions about her health care on my internal medicine rotation,” she says. “I’m the kind of person who wants to be involved in everything. Plastic surgeons operate on every part of the body and on every segment of our population from children to geriatrics. I want to restore overall quality of life and functionality for my patients.”
As a future physician who will be on the front lines of future public health crises, Lautenslager is learning important lessons from her work battling the current pandemic, experiences that continue to shape her into a compassionate and conscientious patient care provider.
“At the end of the day, we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time–with this pandemic, we’re doing that every day,” she says. “As we get new information and the situation evolves, we continue to make that effort so we can look back and know we did the best we could with what we had and what we knew. This viewpoint focuses your attention on the patients you’re caring for and the team you’re working on so you can keep a positive attitude with everyone you work with.”