Yale PA Online Students Support Health Care Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic

“I can’t tell you what acts like this are doing for the wellbeing of my colleagues. Thank you from our hearts (and bellies!!!).” Joe Velez, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City (NYC), recently wrote this to the students in the Yale School of Medicine Physician Assistant Online Program (Yale PA Online). The students had donated a couple of meals from a local restaurant to about 50 members of his team at the hospital, who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sameen Islam, a first-year student in the Yale PA Online Program, who lives in NYC, organized this effort. Yale PA Online is a blended program, enabling students to engage in their didactic classes and coursework, as well as clinical rotations, in their home communities, which for Islam is NYC.

Being in the United States’ COVID-19 epicenter, Islam was eager to help in the effort to stop COVID-19’s harmful and often deadly impact. But being just three months into the PA Online Program, he knew he could not provide medical help. Islam at first did not know how best to help. But then the self-described “foodie” had an idea. “Feeling helpless as a student, I figured one simple gesture I could execute would be to mobilize some food for Joe and his colleagues at Mount Sinai. Being a foodie myself, I know food not only nourishes people, but connects them as well.”

Pre-COVID, Velez, Islam’s boyfriend, administered anesthesia during surgery. But with all non-elective surgeries canceled, Mount Sinai converted post-anesthesia care units into space for COVID patients. Velez and his colleagues were given new roles as advanced practice providers in the COVID ICU, since they have experience in the ICU and are highly skilled at maintaining airways.


“Feeling helpless as a student, I figured one simple gesture I could execute would be to mobilize some food for Joe and his colleagues at Mount Sinai. Being a foodie myself, I know food not only nourishes people, but connects them as well.”

—Sameen Islam, PA Online Student


To operationalize his idea, Islam reached out to his 68 Yale PA Online classmates, and also the Yale PA Online classes of 2020 and 2021. While Islam has never met the students in the other two classes in person, because of the blended structure of the program, he felt comfortable reaching out to the broader Yale PA Online community.  He posted a message on the Facebook Group page that all three classes share, and his class’s “GroupMe chat,” that began “Hi All, I know a lot of us during this time feel and wish we could do more and are simply wondering, ‘how can I help?’” Islam relayed how Velez’s team is working directly with COVID patients in the ICU and intubating them. “While everything is changing minute by minute, last I heard they have over 1,360 COVID patients, with 248 in the ICU, and 200 waiting for a bed in admissions.” He then explained his plan to boost the morale of the ICU team by ordering meals for them, “food and snacks really do make things better,” with the additional benefit of supporting a local business.

The response was very supportive. Through generous donations across all three classes, the students were able to provide a couple of meals for the ICU team of about 50 people. Many students also wrote Islam to express their concern and empathy. Islam believes this was the first time all three cohorts coordinated on a project.

Yale PA Online Program Director James Van Rhee, MS, PA-C, says “it is great that they took this initiative totally on their own, as future health care workers helping current health care workers.” 

Velez’s thank you note to the Yale Online PA program described how “the past three weeks have been endless days of many mixed emotions. The Mount Sinai West Anesthesia team has closed our PACU and set up a COVID ICU. We have worked day and night setting up this ICU and are learning and adapting every day to this nasty virus.” He continued, “today you all treated our department (!!!!) to empanadas, platanos, guacamole, arroz and frijoles! It’s from an amazing neighborhood restaurant (and you all supported them too!!).”

Islam is hopeful that the COVID-19 rate is plateauing in NYC, but if it does continue, he is eager to engage in another round of fundraising for meals.

Islam hopes to practice in NYC after graduating, a community he is already engaging with in meaningful ways.

Citation for this content: Yale School of Medicine Physician Assistant Online Program