How to Engage the National Student Response Network During COVID-19 - Exponent Philanthropy
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How to Engage the National Student Response Network During COVID-19

Giving Beyond Dollars

By Henry Berman

I speak often about how we as funders can support our nonprofit partners and communities, beyond giving funds. Among the methods we have at our disposal—conveying, advocating and offering connections.

Recently, I spoke with Jalen Benson, a first-year medical student, and his colleague Julia Walczak, a nursing student. They’re mobilizing health students to take on COVID-19 locally. What an incredible way to support our future healthcare leaders through the work of committed young people helping our communities.

How to Engage the National Student Response Network During COVID-19

By Jalen Benson

Before matriculating to medical school, I had to prove I could thrive in the field. This meant intense study, lab research and shadowing physicians. Also, working as a Narcan counselor at a needle exchange, and conducting community health work in Haiti. Health equity is as important to me as the mechanism of disease.

I began Harvard Medical School last fall. Then, COVID-19 struck. I felt sidelined and powerless. My medical school transitioned to virtual learning and I went home to Florida. In Boston, I could have supported my school’s affiliated hospitals, now stretched thin by the pandemic. I don’t live near an academic medical center in Florida. My town hospital had no way of knowing I was home and could help.

The National Student Response Network (NSRN) was born out of this disconnect of talents and needs. We match hospitals, public health departments and organizations who need volunteers with the thousands of displaced health professions students. These are eager and capable untapped community resources. And we’re mobilizing our growing network in an impactful way; over 4900 medical, nursing and physician assistant students are supporting community health departments and hospitals in all 50 states.

We support the personal health and safety of our student volunteers. It’s likely that most requests won’t involve patient contact—roles are outlined by the institutions in need. Currently, students are conducting contact tracing, COVID-19 screening, telehealth, temperature screening, phlebotomy, caring for busy healthcare providers’ children, and more. Our model is intentionally flexible. It’s meant to reflect the diverse needs of hospitals, health departments and community organizations.

Thank you members of Exponent Philanthropy for the support and aid you’re giving to your communities in these hard times. We want to support you as you support them, so  please  keep us in mind. Right now, we’re reaching out to non-profits, public health departments and hospitals to see how we can help. If you or your institution needs volunteers, please visit our website, or email NSRN.

Jalen Benson, a first year student at Harvard Medical School is Founder & Director of the National Student Response Network.


  1. Mr. Robert DiLeonardi

    If COVID-19 is like a dark cloud that has blanketed our skies, groups like the NSRN are the bright rays of light that remind us that it is the worst of times that often bring out the best in people. How wonderful that medical, nursing and PA students are organizing and mobilizing in this way. Right about now, I’ll take all the good news I can get.

    This is quite a time to be able to help connect grantees or local nonprofits to volunteers with medical training. Thank you to the students volunteers behind this effort, and thanks to EP for making us aware of their work.

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