Second-semester students in the physician assistant program at Hardin-Simmons University were all set for a mission trip to Peru at the end of April when their plans were abruptly halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The students were disappointed but quickly regrouped and turned their attention to people in need in Abilene or wherever the students are sheltering in place while schools and colleges are closed. The students had collected masks, gloves, hygiene items, and over-the-counter medications for the trip. But when the trip was canceled, Plan B quickly was set in motion.

“All donated supplies have to be reallocated to individuals in Abilene,” Kathy Robinson, assistant professor in the program, said in an email.


Medical supplies collected by the Hardin-Simmons physician assistant program for a mission trip to Peru will instead be distributed in Abilene. Submitted photo

Donation of those supplies is just one example of what healthcare students in Abilene are doing to help out while they aren’t gathered on campuses in Abilene. 

Students in the PA program at Hardin-Simmons started volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels the first year of the program and have continued. This semester is no different. One student, Magen Taylor, said the students asked each other if they wanted to continue the route with the campus closed.

“It wasn’t really much of a question for us,” she said, and students in Abilene are continuing to volunteer.

Hardin-Simmons University physician assistant students volunteer for Meals on Wheels, even with the HSU campus closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Left photo shows, left to right, Sabrina Sanchez, Jeri Smith, and Emily Dudley. Top photo on right shows, left to right, Emily Dudley, Mehul Patel, and Jeri Smith. Bottom photo on right shows, left to right, Jeri Smith and Sabrina Sanchez. Submitted photos

Whatever volunteering the students do is in addition to the online classes they are taking while campuses are closed. The 29 students in Taylor’s class were meeting eight hours a day on campus. Now, they join a group meeting on Zoom or follow lesson plans online.

Students in other healthcare programs in Abilene also are doing their part. 

Karen Lynn Hill, with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, sent photos showing students assisting in various ways, such as delivering goody bags to the staff of Abilene Community Health Center, operated by the School of Nursing, taking lunch to the School of Nursing staff, and supplying coffee donated by Starbuck’s to the health center staff. 


TTUHSC School of Nursing staff delivered goody bags to the staff at Abilene Community Health Center, in an effort to offer encouragement, lift their spirits, and offer a little comfort by way of treats and snacks as they work so diligently and tirelessly on the medical front lines in Abilene. Submitted photo


Abilene Community Health Center staff enjoys Rosa’s lunch delivered by TTUHSC School of Nursing staff of Abilene. Submitted photo


Abilene Community Health Center staff is delighted to receive their morning coffee donated by Starbucks and delivered by TTUHSC School of Nursing staff members. Submitted photo

Some healthcare students are finding other ways to volunteer, such as being an “active listener” through the 7 Cups program. According to its website, 7 Cups is “an on-demand emotional health service and online therapy provider. Anyone who wants to talk about whatever is on their mind can quickly reach out to a trained, compassionate listener through our network.”

Kathy Robinson, assistant professor in the Hardin-Simmons physician assistant program, said in an email that several HSU students had signed up. 

“They are trained to be active listeners for those struggling with anxiety, relationship problems, disability, etc.” Robinson wrote. 

The “active listeners” ask open-ended questions, Robinson explained, and provide emotional support and resources and referrals.  

One of the listeners is Sabrina Sanchez, a first-year student in the physician assistant program at Hardin-Simmons. Students are required to accumulate 50 service hours in order to graduate, Sanchez said, and volunteering for 7 Cups provides some of those hours. Sanchez is living at home in San Antonio while the Hardin-Simmons campus is closed. She said the 7 Cups program provides an online chat capability, rather than phone calls. People sign up for the next-available listener.

“They just need somebody to talk to,” Sanchez said.

She went through a training program and filled out a questionnaire before being accepted. Listeners don’t give advice, Sanchez said. They listen and provide emotional support, helping the caller find inner strength. Most of the concerns now are related to the coronavirus, Sanchez said. She has found that the experience has been helpful to her, as well as to the person she is assisting.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be as fulfilling as it is,” she said.

The spring semester for the PA program ends April 26, followed by a Maymester, with two previously scheduled online courses. The summer session is scheduled to begin the day after Memorial Day. No one knows yet what further disruptions the coronavirus pandemic will bring. 

The second-semester students who had planned to go on the mission trip to Peru may get a chance a year from now to go on another mission trip. Each year, second-semester students go somewhere in the world for their medical mission. This year’s students, like Magen Taylor, are looking forward to joining next year’s team.

“That’s the hope,” she said.








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