One unit at a time

OUWB medical students impact the lives of future patients with blood drives

An image of Doug Gould donating blood

Douglas Gould, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Foundational Medical Studies, donates blood at the most recent OUWB drive for Versiti Blood Center. (Photo by Michele Jasukaitis)


icon of a calendarOct. 7, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Michele Jasukaitis

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Even before they get to be bedside with a patient, OUWB medical students are figuring out ways to care for them.

Emily Nolton and Madison Saunders, Class of 2025, are two such students.

They organized a blood drive in the OUWB Student Lounge at O’Dowd Hall this fall to contribute to Versiti Blood Center of Michigan’s goal of collecting over 620 units each day. According to Versiti, this is the quantity needed to maintain a stable blood supply. Versiti, formerly known as Michigan Blood, launched in southeastern Michigan in 2017 and is the main blood care provider for local health care systems like Beaumont.

“We understand the value of a blood drive,” says Saunders. “Medical students are relatively healthy and we know it is important."

"We learn the lessons of donating and giving back and how important it is to Beaumont to have blood for all of their patients.”

Prior to medical school, Nolton and Saunders worked in emergency medical services (EMS) where they learned firsthand that having access to blood can mean the difference between life and death.

Nolton and Saunders are members of the American Medical Student Association, the student group that organizes the drives for OUWB. It’s an ongoing responsibility that the student leaders plan for and entrust to new members every year. Class of 2024’s Sarah Provencher and Victoria Whiting identified Nolton and Saunders as their predecessors. It’s this heads-up leadership that continues to impress the community in which OUWB engages.

“I find it a proud moment that the current student leadership is always thinking ahead. Sarah and Victoria have now brought in Emily and Madison to ensure the blood drive legacy continues even after they graduate. It truly shows the commitment to their community service efforts in continuing blood drives with Versiti,” said Taylor Bembery, account representative, Versiti Blood Center of Michigan.

Bembery credits former OUWB Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Community Integration Robert Noiva, Ph.D., for rebuilding the partnership on campus and making the connection between Versiti and OUWB.

“The first person to help Versiti start our blood drive partnership was Dr. Robert Noiva. He reached out to us due to our partnership at Beaumont expressing interest in hosting blood drives with Versiti in 2021, and we have grown with OU since then. I am very appreciative of him because he expanded my network at OU,” said Bembery

Versiti recognizes the benefits to hosting a blood drive on campus as it allows them to continue to reach those students who first donated blood in high school.

“University students across the board are a vital piece of creating long-term blood donors,” said Bembery. “We are engaging in the ‘why’ behind the blood donation early, awarding leadership cords and recognition, with the intent of continuing a partnership with universities to ensure the 16-18-year-old donors have a place to donate that is convenient and accessible in college.”

An image of two OUWB medical students

Emily Nolton and Madison Saunders, OUWB Class of 2025, organized the most recent blood drive at OUWB for Versiti Blood Center. (Photo by Michele Jasukaitis)

‘One unit can impact three lives’

For their part, OUWB students spread the word about the drive, facilitate student volunteers, and sign-up donors. On the day of the blood drive, they support Versiti by helping set up the room, and monitor and take care of donors after they give blood. During the drive in September - National Sickle Cell Awareness Month - Versiti provided OUWB Sickle Cell Awareness T-shirts to distribute.

“In addition to this service, students learn about different blood disorders as well such as sickle cell,” said Bembery. “We have a huge focus on diversity and inclusion. We want all people to donate blood to ensure the best patient care. Our students that volunteer, do an excellent job at communicating that to the student body.”

AMSA also teamed up with OU School of Health Science students from ECLIPSE, an OU leadership initiative, who volunteered to assist Versiti while the medical student volunteers attended classes.

“Donating blood is rewarding. I thanked donors by saying, ‘Congratulations, you saved three lives today,’” said Nolton. “When people would try but couldn’t donate, I told them that there were plenty of volunteer opportunities instead.”

“As someone who can’t donate blood, I cheer on those who do donate,” said Saunders.

On average Versiti hopes to collect 35 units, with O blood type being the most in demand, and can accept 60 appointment slots. Regular blood donation is encouraged so supplies are on the shelves and ready for patients.

“By donating blood, you can find out your blood type. O-negative blood is universal and used in cases of where blood type is unknown,” said Bembery. “One unit of blood can impact 3 lives.”

The 28 units of blood collected at the September drive will impact 84 lives. The results of the drive also included 15 first-time attempting donors.

A childhood lesson in compassion

Doug Gould, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Foundational Medical Studies, OUWB, donates regularly and as often as he is able. In his previous job at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine he worked his way up to a 10-gallon donor.

“I think it’s an incredible way to help people,” said Gould, who donated blood at the September drive.

He learned the importance of donating blood at a young age from his parents, especially his mom.

“Ever since I was little, I was impressed that my parents routinely donated blood,” said Gould. “My mother always told me that it was the right thing to do and an easy and direct way to help people. She reminded me that you never know when you or someone you care about might need blood, so it's best to do your part.”

Gould and others will have more chances to donate blood as there are four blood drives set to occur on OU’s campus through the current academic school year. Nolton and Saunders and the AMSA group are organizing drives on in 2023 on Jan. 19 and March 28. Oakland University Student Life is organizing drives later this month, on Oct. 31, and on Feb. 14, 2023.

“Blood donation is such a selfless act of community service,” said Bembery. “This is an opportunity to practice leadership and overall connection to the community. These students are our physicians of the future, if they have that first-hand opportunity to be a part of the community, by helping to support our local blood supply, it will make a positive impact on the service they provide in the future.”

Since Versiti started hosting blood drives with OUWB’s AMSA group in 2021, they have collected 164 units of blood, impacting 492 lives.

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