Brian Muthyala, MD, MPH, Lily Rubenstein, RN, BSN, PHN, CEN, and the MN CovidSitters team have been selected as champions of humanistic care during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be honored by the national Arnold P. Gold Foundation. 

The nomination of these recipients was made by medical student members of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Chapter of the Gold Humanism Honors Society (GHHS) and the submissions were completed by one of the chapter advisors, David Power, MBBS, MPH, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

One of the winners, Dr. Muthyala, is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the U of M Medical School, where he earned his medical degree and completed his residency.

“Dr. Brian Muthyala is an example of humanism in clinical care and medical education,” his student nominators said. “In addition to his role as a physician, he went above and beyond to guide medical students navigating changes to rotations, applying to residency programs and preparing for virtual interviews. His efforts have facilitated students’ success in navigating the myriad changes to medical education related to the pandemic.”

Dr. Muthyala shared that the pandemic has been an opportunity for him to rediscover his focus. “Building community and strengthening relationships, while difficult, remains the essence of being an educator,” he said. “COVID also pushed me to the center of the margins; reminding me that our most vulnerable patients, communities and students deserve our most attention, care and love. I hope my students remember this as they move forward into their careers.” 

Another winner, Lily Rubenstein RN, has been a nurse at M Health Fairview for several years. Despite this challenging year, she rose to the call and worked tirelessly to provide quality care for her patients. 

“Starting in March 2020, Lily called all suspected or confirmed COVID-positive patients with limited English proficiency to triage their symptoms, assisted with testing, isolation and quarantine of contacts and helped coordinate social services as needed, like unemployment, mental health referrals and food assistance, often involving complex isolation quarantine for large, multigenerational families in one household,” Dr. Power said. 

Rubenstein shared that equity is incredibly important to her. "While COVID-19 has brightly illuminated the health inequities of our healthcare system, it has also shown the wonderful humanism and compassion in our colleagues,” she said. “We all worked quickly and creatively to ensure our patients were afforded the same quality of care as everyone else. I have never been more honored to be a nurse and never more sure of the importance of my work."

The rapid onset of the pandemic in March 2020 left U of M medical students having to take an unexpected pause in their clinical experiences. Despite their inability to be frontline workers, a group of these students wanted to make an impact during these difficult times. They started an organization called “MN CovidSitters.” This student-run organization was created with the goal of providing support to families in the healthcare system. The MN CovidSitters created an app that matched students with families based on their needs. They provided free childcare and pet care and ran other errands.

"On behalf of our more than 400 current and past CovidSitters, we are honored to receive this wonderful recognition,” shared a student representative from MN CovidSitters. “If we've learned anything from the past year, it's that the future can be better than the past, so long as you have good people standing by your side. The successes of MN CovidSitters are a direct reflection of the role models we have in our community, most importantly our teachers. And, while mutual aid networks like ours have highlighted some of the long-standing fractures in our healthcare system, they have also – hopefully – shown that anyone, anywhere can take steps to heal it."

In the past year, MN CovidSitters has become a global movement. From Milwaukee to Sudan, there have been over 100 sister organizations, all united with the similar calling of creating solidarity and support for frontline healthcare heroes.  

Dr. Muthyala, Rubenstein and the MN CovidSitters will all be celebrated at the June 2021 Gold Foundation Gala along with the National Humanism in Medicine Medal recipients: Drs. Anthony Fauci, Wayne Riley and Eric Topol.