Real Life Hero: Joshua Mizels

The University of South Florida named this third-year medical student as the first USF Hero in May 2020, recognizing his commitment to public health during the COVID-19 crisis. Josh helped establish USF’s telemedicine clinic for people diagnosed with the virus. But he was serving his community long before the pandemic began, as the president of Tampa Bay Street Medicine (TBSM), a student-run organization at the USF Morsani College of Medicine that provides primary care to underserved populations in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties. Many patients are without homes or insurance; some are refugees. On their twice-weekly “street runs” in a retrofitted ambulance, Josh and his team administer basic medical care, treat wounds, and distribute personal hygiene supplies. They also run a free clinic out of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tampa, where patients can receive treatment for chronic conditions and fill prescriptions. Josh reserves two Fridays and two Saturdays each month for working with TBSM, which he acknowledges is a big commitment.

“Everyone makes sacrifices,” he says. “Medical students give up sleep, exercise, their social lives, and free time. It all adds up and adds stress. But it’s worth it in the end.”

Growing up, Josh’s mom instilled in him (“maybe forced,” he says, laughing) the value of helping others. He wants to give us the same advice that she gave him: study hard and help out. Josh knew that the whirlwind life of a medical student wouldn’t get him off the hook at home.

“I’d get in trouble [with her] if I didn’t do something.”

With his service to TBSM and his work with the CoCo Clinic, plus a long career in medicine in front of him, it’s safe to say that Josh is doing a little more than something.

Joshua Mizels Josh started Tampa Bay Street Medicine as a student, to help provide primary care to underserved people in three counties.

Pandemic Presents Opportunities

What do you do if you’re a third-year medical student, required to complete your clinical hours, and both your governing board and your state forbid you from seeing patients? In March of 2020, the American Medical Association recommended that medical students halt in-person patient interactions; simultaneously, the University of South Florida closed its campus and pivoted to distance learning. Students like Josh had to get creative. Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon was setting up a telehealth center for patients in quarantine, so Josh volunteered for her team. The COVID Confirmed (or CoCo) Clinic offers frequent check-ins via phone or video for people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus but who are needing insurance or are stable enough to remain at home. Josh and his fellow volunteers can check their vital signs, evaluate their risk levels, and provide social support. They treated over 1,000 patients in their first two months alone. Josh got involved with the CoCo Clinic because he saw an opportunity to gain experience with telemedicine, which is becoming increasingly popular and important. It also gave him something meaningful to do with his time while sheltering in place during the pandemic.

“There’s always an opportunity to give back,” he reminds us.

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