One Year of Conversation in Isolation: Where did it all start?

 Written by: Vineeta Giri Edited by: Sophie He

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it affected one and all in different ways. Students suddenly found that their homes had transformed into their classrooms overnight. And the Monash medical student cohort found that with the indefinite postponement of clinical placements, they were suddenly left with not much to do. Whilst this unexpected time off may have been exciting for some, one group of medical students, driven by a desire to help in a time of helplessness, got together and formed a program that has since touched hundred of lives (and counting): Conversation in Isolation.

It all started with a Facebook post from then-fifth-year medical student Stephanie McKelvie. The post, aimed at gauging interest from the student body, was met with enthusiasm from many who wanted to help out in any way that they could. Within 48 hours of the post, a group of more than seventy-five students had formed and began brainstorming ways of reaching out to community members adversely affected by the pandemic. Conversation in Isolation was formed shortly thereafter, with the intention of providing telephone support to those experiencing loneliness during the mandated lockdown period. With the risk of COVID-19 transmission in mind, this service was easily accessible and could maintain the safety of both volunteers and community members. 

The Facebook post

Within three days, a name, proposal, logo and logistics for the program had been drawn out and had garnered approval from the Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. And within fourteen days of Stephanie’s Facebook post, the service began accepting community and volunteer sign-ups, training volunteers and matching calling volunteers with community members. By the end of the first wave of COVID-19 in Victoria, the team coordinating Conversation in Isolation had matched close to fifty community members with volunteers, to receive regular phone calls. 

Shortly thereafter, the state of Victoria was swamped by a second wave of COVID-19, and was once again plunged back into strict social restrictions. With word spreading of Conversation in Isolation’s service, more and more community members were signing up to have someone to talk to in those lonely and isolating times. The initiative was simultaneously getting more and more recognition from the health professional community (including general practitioners and aged care homes) who began referring clients who might benefit from additional social support. Before long, Conversation in Isolation had gained the attention of national media platforms, including The Age, and subsequently, many opportunities arose to publicise the work of this program. 

The Age article on Conversation in Isolation

Conversation in Isolation started with a group of young people, passionate about helping those in need during a difficult time. Since its inception, the initiative has benefitted hundreds of community members and volunteers alike, with over 150 community members and over 200 dedicated health student volunteers currently engaged in regular calls. 

Thanks to the outpouring of support from the public and the continued efforts of our  amazing volunteers, we are looking forward to continuing this service well beyond the pandemic. We thank you for celebrating this exciting milestone with us here at Conversation in Isolation and we look forward to continuing to alleviate loneliness in our community, one phone call at a time.