Sara Lederman

When applying for medical school, second-year medical student Sara Lederman knew she wanted to stay at the University of Minnesota. Having lived around the world—in New York City as an undergraduate student at Barnard College, in Delhi as a Fulbright Scholar and in Minneapolis as a graduate student at the School of Public Health—it was clear to Lederman where she wanted to be.

“There are many replicable aspects of medical schools around the country, but the U of M had something no other place could offer,” she said. “Minnesota is home.”

In addition to her coursework, Lederman is involved in the community as a volunteer student clinician at the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic, a yoga teacher at the M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital and the co-president of the Twin Cities chapter of Medical Students for Choice. As a National Health Service Corps Scholar and with a background in health policy, Lederman is committed to practicing medicine not just as a clinician but also as an advocate.

“My focus is on structural change and how we can leverage policies to improve the health of folks who have typically lived on the margins,” she said.

Stepping Up in a Time of Need

In early March, Lederman was scrolling through Twitter and saw all of the doctors in China and Italy struggling with COVID-19.

I knew that this was going to come to my community. When I saw the faces of frontline workers around the world, I saw the faces of my mentors and my professors—doctors who teach you how to use your stethoscope on the first day of med school, the residents who teach you how to scrub in for your first surgery, the nurses who hold your hand as you learn the ropes on the wards,” she said. “It felt extremely personal to me.”

This was right around the same time that Lederman and her classmates learned that their classes were moving to an online platform and that clinicals were going to be postponed and adjusted. She decided to take advantage of the time and posted to a Facebook group, asking those who wanted to participate in supporting frontline workers to write their names down, along with what they’d be interested in doing.

The Birth of MN COVIDsitters

After discussing with her friend and fellow second-year medical student Sruthi Shankar, they came to the conclusion that they should focus on providing child care.

“Within days, we had a board of 13 medical students representing every class year. And thanks to the grit and raw talent of my friends, seemingly overnight, we had built websites, apps and networks really, really deep into our community in ways that I would have never expected,” she said.

After only two weeks of diligent work, the group became an official nonprofit, called MN COVIDsitters. To date, they have recruited over 300 student volunteers who serve more than 100 frontline families. Even more, the new nonprofit now has over 100 sister organizations around the world, everywhere from Milwaukee to Sudan.

Lederman hopes that MN COVIDsitters, along with all of the other incredible grassroots movements that are happening around the country, help people realize that we all have the power to build a better system and future.

“If MN COVIDsitters can fulfill its mission to support the people who have been supporting us all along—and inspire others along the way, reminding them there’s more work to be done even during social isolation—then I’d be thrilled,” she said. “I know for so many of us at times this feels like the end, but it’s really just the beginning.”