Medical students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine are fostering improved communication between patients with COVID-19, their families, and members of hospital care teams.

OUWB medical students providing critical link between COVID-19 patients, families
An image of an OUWB communication liaison

Medical students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine are fostering improved communication between patients with COVID-19, their families, and members of hospital care teams.

The future physicians started volunteering in late December as communication liaisons – stepping up to serve in the role as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In short, communication liaisons aim to reduce isolation, anxiety, and fear that might be experienced by patients and families affected by COVID-19. In doing so, communication liaisons help patients and families generally stay connected with each other and Beaumont health care teams.

It’s not only helping the patients with COVID-19, their loved ones, and the hospital staff, but providing a unique learning experience for the students.

“The experience is not only helping me learn about communication, but how to foster trust with patients and staff members with hopes of eliminating avoidable suffering,” said Alexandra Jankulov, a first-year OUWB student.

“What I’m taking away from this experience is the value of really thorough communication as a clinician,” said Tyler Shubitowski, a third-year OUWB student volunteer. “I also have better understanding of familial connections and the role those connections have in helping patients get better, or at least make their stay a little more enjoyable.” 

‘Anxious to get involved’

Kelly Parent, vice president for Patient Family Experience, Beaumont Health, said it was early in the pandemic when officials recognized the challenges of communication between patients with COVID-19, their families, and health care teams.

Many of the challenges, she said, were caused by the surge of patients coupled with necessary visitation restrictions, among other things.

Hospital officials quickly realized that they needed people whose “whole job” would be to act as communication liaisons.

“Family members of patients with COVID-19 “absolutely deserve to know the ins and outs and everything that’s happening to their loved one,” said Lynda Misra, D.O., interim associate dean of Undergraduate Clinical Education, and Beaumont physician.

Roles and responsibilities of communication liaisons have centered on tasks and activities that support staff, patient and family connections through identifying the correct family spokesperson, fielding family phone calls asking for information, helping families prepare for conversations with providers, providing technical assistance to help connect patients, families and providers through virtual technology, and facilitating the completion of “get to know me” sheets to better understand the person behind the illness. Communication liaisons do not have direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

Initially, the costs associated with the communication liaisons was covered by a grant from United Way of Oakland County. However, that grant ended Dec. 31, 2020.

Misra said she recommended OUWB medical students be offered the opportunity to volunteer as communication liaisons.

She said she was inspired by the students reaching out to get involved in any way possible.

“(OUWB students) are so anxious to get involved in patient care any way they can,” she said. “It was an easy win-win situation.”

The value of really thorough communication

Training started for participating medical students in mid-December.

It consisted of two modules — Roles and Expectations of Communication Liaisons and PPE Safety — presented over a 90-minute session. The student volunteers also spend some time shadowing other communication liaisons.

The volunteers are learning the kinds of things that can’t be taught in a classroom setting, according to Parent.


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“They’re getting an opportunity to understand all of the different pieces that go into the lives of patients and families whenever they have a loved one who is sick,” said Parent. “They’re understanding the things that patients and families worry about. They’re learning a tremendous amount about the whole person…and that’s extremely important.”

Jankulov said the experience has been eye-opening for her, particularly with regard to the way health care teams work so hard to help patients connect with their loved ones.

“It really does impact their care and at times really does help patients feel more comfortable,” she said.

She recalled one instance where a family member of a patient wanted to connect and simply say, “Happy birthday.” Jankulov said it’s those types of situations that show her how “those little details that make a difference and have such an impact with this program.”

“It’s definitely uplifting to know that there is great impact in how we’re volunteering and what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” she said.  

Shubitowski said he’s had similar experiences. One that stuck out in his mind was helping unite a male patient with his wife. The two hadn’t seen each other for about two weeks and it was an emotional reunion, said Shubitowski.

“Being able to help those kinds of patients connect, especially when they’re in time of sickness or hardship, is really rewarding,” he said.

Parent commended and thanked the OUWB medical students for stepping up and volunteering.

“(The OUWB students) probably don’t even understand how much they’re really doing for patients, families and our Beaumont community,” said Parent. “A great uplifting story like this comes at exactly the right time and gives us even more hope for the future.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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