A Call to Action: Two Students’ Efforts to Secure N95 Masks
For Amar Dixit and Jenna Leahy (both 2Y 2020), the PPE shortage for frontline healthcare workers during COVID-19 was a call to action. Below is their story of how they partnered with local health professionals and the Kellogg community to successfully deliver thousands of NIOSH certified N95 respirators to Chicago Area Hospitals.
Tell us about yourselves and your journey so far at Kellogg.
Jenna: I am a former entrepreneur in the education sector. I came to Kellogg to develop my leadership skills and to pivot into the next chapter of my career. Kellogg has been a tremendous, life-changing experience for me. The professors at Kellogg are truly extraordinary, and having two years to focus on learning, impact, and self-reflection has been a tremendous gift.
At Kellogg, I’ve also been given the freedom to chart my own path. In particular, I’ve focused on leadership development and have done independent research on productivity, empathy, and assertiveness. I’ve also spent the past year coaching 10 managers across Chicago through an independent study in partnership with Professor Brenda Ellington Booth.
Additionally, I’ve made lifelong friends (one of whom is Amar!) who inspire and motivate me on a daily basis.
Amar: I am a practicing physician. Like so many healthcare workers, during my educational experiences, medical training, and practice, I frequently came face-to-face with our “broken healthcare system.” I saw that if you are sick, you need to worry about bureaucratic inefficiencies, high costs, and access limitations rather than just getting better and taking care of your family. It was disheartening to watch my healthcare colleagues spend more time dealing with paperwork and administrative overhead than with our patients. These experiences have continued to provide purpose during my Kellogg journey.
Kellogg has led me on a journey centered on exploration, self-reflection, and cross-disciplinary learning. Prior to Kellogg, most of my previous leadership development occurred on the fly; at Kellogg, classes such as Personal Leadership Insights with Professor Brooke Vuckovic and Managerial Leadership with Professor Harry Kraemer have provided insights and intangible lessons. As someone with no formal education or any classroom experience in business, economics, or finance, I have found lecture rooms to be a stimulating environment and a great opportunity to learn from my peers. In this process, I have developed friendships like the one I have with Jenna that have become the most meaningful part of my Kellogg experience.
You’re both graduating this year from Kellogg. What were your plans and goals for the Spring prior to this incredible moment we find ourselves in?
Jenna: This Spring Break, I was supposed to volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece through the Northwestern Access to Health Project, which was, unfortunately, cancelled due to COVID-19. In the Spring Quarter, I was excited to continue learning and to create more lasting memories with my friends.
Professor Harry Kraemer encourages us to reflect on how we are living out our lives on a daily basis and, thanks to that advice, I feel like I approached each day at Kellogg over the past 1.5 years with purpose. What we have access to at Kellogg (our classes, professors, classmates, speakers, etc.) is unique. Not being alongside my community this quarter makes me sad, but I feel lucky to have had five beautiful quarters at Kellogg before this.
Amar: During Spring Break, I was planning on participating in a healthcare 2020 leadership summit, opening a few extra clinics to shorten the wait times for patients, and visiting my family in California.
This Spring, I was really looking forward to sharing more experiences and connecting further with my Kellogg friends. Like so many other students, I felt that Spring was when I would solidify my friendships. I keep reminding myself, though, that what we lost in not being together this quarter, we gained in reconnecting with others.
Was there a specific moment you realized the scale of COVID-19 and what your response would be?
Jenna: It was a slow realization. As I’m sure for many of us for a while, the news was hard to take in and process. In some ways, this new world still doesn’t feel like real life. When members of our Kellogg community contracted the virus, it became much more real and scary. It made me want to mobilize to help those who were suffering.
Until Amar called me about supporting the Frontline Angels fundraiser, I felt helpless in terms of trying to figure out what my response would be. My instinct is always to jump in and act, but in this case, due to social distancing, it was harder to determine what I could do to make a difference. I’m extremely grateful to Amar for reaching out to me and asking me to join his team.
Amar: There was no specific moment, but rather a one-week period of time (March 1st to March 8th) that the scale of the impact hit me. I will say that Wednesday, March 4th stands out as it had many inflection points.
As the situation was escalating, I did not know what my exact response and role would be. I did know that as a young, healthy, and qualified physician, it was my moral and personal duty to meet the challenge.
Tell us about your collaboration with each other and your work with local physicians and experts to provide PPE to frontline healthcare professionals.
Amar: As everyone knows, there are PPE shortages around the country. Chicago is facing shortages as well. At the time our efforts began, Chicago was facing an imminent surge of COVID-19 cases. My colleagues at the University of Chicago Medicine, where I practice part-time, decided they needed to step in and leverage their expertise to fill this need. They asked for my help because of my business school education at Kellogg.
I knew that more expertise and experience were needed. I knew Jenna’s extraordinary skillset would be a great fit for the team. The team has been so fortunate that she joined the effort. She has been invaluable, spearheading several outreach efforts.
The focus of our efforts has been on acquiring FDA/NIOSH certified N95 respirators. A N95 respirator is a specific type of respirator that can protect the healthcare workers from COVID-19. NIOSH certification entails ensuring the respirator functions properly. Unfortunately, these have been in especially short supply. As such, the group has discussed the issue with top experts in the space, evaluated over 20 PPE manufacturers, and researched supply chain efforts. We have successfully delivered thousands of NIOSH certified N95 respirators to Chicago-area hospitals.
You’ve been circulating the fundraising campaign, COVID-19 Chicago Frontline Angels, among the Kellogg community to raise funds to offset the PPE shortage in hospitals. What has the response been from Kellogg so far?
Jenna: The response has been incredible! Over 100 members of our community donated to the campaign and the Kellogg community raised close to $4,000 in a week. Watching the donations increase after we posted the link on the Kellogg Slack channel was a powerful moment because it illustrated the commitment and support of our larger Kellogg community. These contributions literally saved healthcare workers from getting infected and dying.
What are your next steps in your collaboration with each other and the healthcare professionals you’ve been working with?
Amar: Currently, we continue to raise funds and purchase FDA/NIOSH certified N95 respirators. We have also started to provide other types of PPE for healthcare facilities in need. Like many, we did not anticipate becoming involved in such an effort and will continue our push to support healthcare workers in Chicago as long as needed.
Anything else you’d like to share with the Kellogg community and our readers?
Jenna: Amar and I have called each other a few times over the past week just to remark to one another about how thrilled and floored we have been by the response from this community. Kellogg is a truly special place and I feel honored to be part of a group that, even when faced with insurmountable obstacles, does what it can to act. That, to me, is brave leadership.
Amar: The efforts of the Kellogg community during these times have gone beyond just supporting our initiative. Our community has volunteered its time and money for a variety of projects from helping senior citizens to supporting struggling businesses. Our community has repeatedly answered the call for blood donations. Our community has spoken up and advocated for safe social measures. I am proud to be part of this community.
In life, we do not always make decisions and take actions to be liked or to be admired; we do them to stand for what is right and to protect those whose wellbeing should be our concern.