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HOULTON, Maine — When Joshua Lewis was choosing a medical school, he found an unlikely match in St. George University, on the Caribbean island of Grenada. The school had offered him a scholarship, and there he could still receive an American-style education while enjoying the tropical climate and pristine beaches.
But after the COVID-19 crisis was deemed a global pandemic, Lewis, who is originally from Woodstock, New Brunswick, but now resides in Houlton, found himself returning to Maine to finish up his semester of classes online — like millions of other college students in the United States.
Besides finishing out his semester, Lewis also wanted to use what he had learned thus far from his medical studies to help people in Maine.
“I’m studying medicine and trying to learn ways I can help other people,” he said. “I don’t want to do that only once I’m an actual doctor and graduate.”
Lewis joined the National Student Response Network, an organization founded by Harvard medical student Jalen Benson. The nationwide organization seeks to match medical students with hospitals and medical centers in their areas, which may not be affiliated with a medical school.
The organization has already gathered more than 4,000 student volunteers from a variety of medical professions, despite being founded only five weeks ago, according to the NSRN’s instagram page.
In Maine, this need is particularly pertinent. There is only one medical school in the entire state — the College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of New England in Biddeford.
That means the central and northern areas of the state are essentially devoid of any medical students to assist with preparing for and treating patients with COVID-19, though there are a few nursing programs, such as at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
But the number of returning students from other parts of the country back to Maine has created an influx of potential new medical volunteers, such as Lewis, who works as a screener at Houlton’s Katahdin Valley Health Center in addition to his volunteer work for NSRN.
“We have students from Harvard. We have students from Brown. We have students from Cornell that are here in Maine now,” Lewis said. “Even though they may not go to a school in Maine, they’re home in Maine now, they want to help out [and] they can go out and do that.”
Watch: 283 ventilators are not being used yet in Maine