As medical providers and hospital administrations grow increasingly desperate for personal protective equipment, the UCI Medical Center in Orange is receiving a shipment of 5,000 face shields from an unlikely source — the very medical students it works to educate.
Though the Irvine campus was closed in March in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, medical students and faculty from five departments used 3-D printers and teamwork to create thousands of masks for the center.
The first shipment of 2,500 face shields was sent Tuesday and an additional 2,500 will be sent Thursday.
The masks meet necessary medical form and fit functional requirements identified by the hospital staff, the university said. The design is also economical enough to be disposable after each patient interaction, which was a primary concern.
The idea started with neighbors and first-year medical students, Ermin Dzihic and Tim McMullen.
"[McMullen] and I, we had spring break plans that were obviously canceled. So, we figured, ‘Let’s use this time to benefit others, other than sitting at home,’” Dzihic said.
“When spring break started [and] everyone’s in quarantine, ... we wanted to develop something that the clinicians could use,” said Dzihic, who is president of the UCI Technology in Medicine Interest Group.
Dzihic said that the interest group had a makerspace available at the medical school and that he and McMullen started 3D-printing open source mask designs and began modifying it to suit the needs of medical staff.
UCI Beall Applied Innovation leaders put the two into contact with faculty at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Claire Trevor School of the Arts, who helped develop the design and mass production of the face shields. Work on the project began in earnest last week, Dzihic said.
“Once we started that initiative, we took on the role of getting medical students involved and having them come and help,” Dzihic said. “There’s all of these assembly processes. It’s really nice to have a lot of the energy that the medical students have to come and help out.
“It’s difficult to have so many people, but we managed to have social distancing space and adequate assembly.”
Dzihic said UCI Beall Applied Innovation donated space for the cause.
Students, outfitted with masks and gloves, monitored machines carving through sheets of plexiglass or the 3-D printers used create the frames for the shields. Each frame is outfitted by another student with a small cushion and elastic band before being handed off to another student to fit a transparent film sheet. The masks are then checked, bagged and packaged away into boxes for shipment.
David Horton, also a first-year medical student, said he heard about the project from Dzihic and McMullen and has been volunteering with the effort for about four hours every day since Thursday.
“It’s really nice to see this collaborative effort between departments. Obviously, as medical students, some have engineering backgrounds, but it’s good to have engineers fabricate and design the pieces and we can help in other ways like coming down here to assemble,” Horton said, adding that medical students had a little more free time than the staff engineers responsible for design.
“It kind of allows us to pull our resources together, get different minds in here and this was kind of the collective effort of different departments,” Horton said.
"[McMullen] and I, we had spring break plans that were obviously canceled. So, we figured, ‘Let’s use this time to benefit others, other than sitting at home.’”
Dzihic said the 5,000 masks being shipped this week are for the medical center but the hope is to be able to distribute masks to other regional clinics and hospitals through the medical center’s communication channels.
“If there is a need, we’ll continue,” Dzihic said.
He said the team will soon evaluate the process of making the masks and what the need for more may be.
“I’ve been working at UCI for eight years now. This is the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s so exciting,” said Jesse Colin Jackson, an associate professor of art and project manager of the UCI Face Shield Project. “We’ve got people who are staff, people who are administrators, professors like me.”
“Relative to the pandemic, [the amount of face shields is] small, but for our medical center, this is a large number of masks that adds a lot of confidence to our medical professionals and the rest of Orange County,” Jackson added.