The Opposite of Loneliness: Medical Student Mobilization During COVID-19

What is the opposite of loneliness? According to student-author Marina Keegan,1 there is no single word in the English dictionary to describe this feeling. And yet, it is the way that I, a fourth-year medical student, have felt since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March 2020, medical students were pulled virtually overnight from their clinical responsibilities. Instead of pitying themselves, students from all over the country joined forces to mobilize, as documented in a recent Academic Medicine article.2 Volunteer efforts, advocacy initiatives, and research all became available outlets for students, who had previously been separated by institutional walls and state borders, to bond together to work on achieving a common objective: to help. Invisible hierarchies between students, residents, fellows, and attendings suddenly ceased to exist as all hands were on deck to fight the virus in any and all ways possible.

Online video chats have facilitated not only communication, but connections between and among members of the medical profession who may never have otherwise met or interacted. In milliseconds, student voices and ideas in one part of the country could be shared with a national audience, local grassroots campaigns could be emulated, and regular conversations could unfold between students and deans at various schools.

From all of this, a clear lesson emerged. No matter the level of training, trainees are strong in numbers. During this pandemic, the medical profession has successfully leveraged collective action for many things from obtaining more personal protective equipment to passing legislation for particular at-risk populations. In the face of adversity, there has been a ubiquitous sense of duty, responsibility to others, and camaraderie. This pandemic has not necessarily created a new community, but it has strengthened the one that was already there.

As we continue to fight this virus, students must not lose their powerful collective identity. With it, they can help marginalized communities, create a more equitable health care system, and defend and uplift each other during hard times.

So, what is the opposite of loneliness? I’m not sure.

But I feel it.

By:Derek Soled, MSc

D. Soled is a fourth-year MD/MBA student, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts; ORCID:

Further reading and references

  1. Keegan M. KEEGAN: The Opposite of Loneliness. Yale Daily News. Published May 27, 2012. Accessed December 15, 2020.
  2. Soled D, Goel S, Barry D, et al. Medical student mobilization during a crisis: Lessons from a COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team. Acad Med. 2020;95:1384–1387.