MDAdvantage asked the nine medical and healthcare student recipients of our EJI Excellence in Medicine Scholarships to share their thoughts on entering the healthcare profession during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their responses, which have been edited for brevity and clarity, give us insight into how the next generation of healthcare providers sees this time of unprecedented crisis.
Laura Alban, MS
Seton Hall University School of Health and Medical Sciences, Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2020
After I graduate from the Seton Hall University Physician Assistant Program, I plan to seek employment in sports medicine or neurology, although I wonder whether the pandemic will change the availability of jobs in certain specialties in the near term. My biggest concern as a healthcare provider entering the field is the uncertainty surrounding how long this pandemic will last and the impact it will have on the healthcare system. Currently, New Jersey has the second highest number of cases in the country, which means hospitals and their resources are stretched.
The lessons learned from these experiences will help hospitals and healthcare professionals prepare for another pandemic in the future, when or if one should occur again. Hospitals will need to consider and evaluate many factors, including their bed capacity, supply inventory and the necessary training for the management of a future pandemic.
Rutgers School of Health Professions, Physician Assistant Program, Class of 2021
As a second-year physician assistant (PA) student, I have more than a year of clinical rotations to complete before graduating in May 2021. I plan to resume them as soon as hospitals and clinics allow clinical education to continue. In the meantime, the Rutgers PA Program faculty is working extremely hard to develop contingency plans and alternative learning experiences for students, such as getting involved in telemedicine and COVID-19 clinical trials.
During this time at home, a quiet guilt creeps in, weaving its way through my mind and resting on my heart and in my gut. As a student in the healthcare field, I chose this path to serve others and hopefully, provide healing in the process. I chose to be on a medical team, not only to care for my patients but also to support the healthcare professionals I work alongside. But here I am, safe at home, while my future colleagues bear the burden of this virus to the point of being overwhelmed while risking their own physical and mental health.
“We may never see or experience what our colleagues have, and may not be able to fully relate to the unique trauma they experienced during this pandemic.” Molly deButts
When we return to the hospitals and clinics, our colleagues will have wounds and scars, some visible and others invisible. As future healthcare providers, we will have just missed that experience in a way that places us on the outside looking in. We may never see or experience what our colleagues have, and may not be able to fully relate to the unique trauma they experienced during this pandemic. The healthcare system will be different in ways that we can’t anticipate. We will be called upon to be flexible and to evolve. We will have a new and even deeper compassion for our coworkers, as we join healthcare teams that have been beaten and broken but are still standing. And even when we finally de-mask and are able to breathe a little easier, we will continue to learn from the experiences of those before us. We as a community will respect and honor the bravery of the healthcare providers and will remember the patients who were lost in this devastating pandemic that will shape the medical community for years to come.
Christian DiLiberto, DO
Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Class of 2020
After celebrating Match Day virtually, I am preparing to begin my general surgery residency at Abington–Jefferson Health in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, I have been active in the Rowan Community Health Center COVID-19 distancing outreach initiatives.
One of my greatest concerns as I begin my career is how this pandemic is impacting the lives of those I will be caring for. It is a horrifying thought that those who have lost loved ones in this time cannot give them a proper burial until the quarantine is lifted. I cannot imagine that kind of overwhelming sense of grief and isolation. The pandemic has confirmed and fueled my passion for wanting to be in a career that can help make an impact not only in the community but also now in the world. I am interested to see how the general surgery teams have helped care for patients with COVID-19, and the teamwork needed to properly care for them.
I hope that in the future, government officials will begin to take the words, warnings and recommendations of scientists and healthcare professionals more seriously. It is tragic that the world has to suffer a pandemic for officials to understand the true risks, struggles and needs of hospitals working around the clock to care for patients. I look forward to a time when we are better prepared to meet these challenges.
Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Class of 2021
The second half of my spring semester education was delivered online, and starting in May 2020, I am scheduled to begin my final year of pharmacy school. The final year is comprised of a series of eight rotations that span different areas of the field. However, I am not sure how this will work given the pandemic.
My main concern regarding the pandemic, however, is centered on the providers on the medical teams directly interacting and treating patients with COVID-19 who are critically ill. As the news reports that hospitals have insufficient quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff, I hope that all of the medical professionals are staying safe and taking the best possible care of themselves as they are saving others’ lives.
The pandemic has brought various questions about medications and vaccines targeting this virus. As a student pharmacist, I make sure to follow all news relevant to these topics, and I am very interested in learning about the new developments and advancements. I am quite impressed with the efforts of my colleagues to develop new, life-saving entities. I anticipate that as a result of the pandemic, people will place more emphasis on their health. This will potentially present medical professionals with an opportunity to encourage their patients to follow good lifestyle practices and take good care of themselves.
Brittany Martinez, MD
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Class of 2020
I will start my family medicine residency at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center in June 2020. In the meantime, my school has instituted many initiatives to help patients and healthcare workers through the pandemic. One specific initiative in which my school is participating is a telemedicine project. Various attending physicians and patients complete their visits online via video chat. Because there is a large Hispanic community in New Brunswick, I am bridging the language barrier during these visits. I interpret the visits and ensure that Spanish-speaking patients understand what was discussed, despite the language barrier and the new virtual setting of the doctor’s visit.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed our healthcare system to its limits. What I fear most, as I prepare to begin my residency in the setting of a pandemic, is not being able to handle the new workload while following the established protocols and procedures to protect myself, colleagues and patients from the COVID-19 virus. However, I am ready to take on this challenge. With the support of my Program Director and fellow colleagues, I know I will be able to transition into my career and be well prepared to provide my patients with quality healthcare. This pandemic has shown me how a career as a healthcare provider is constantly changing. Whether it’s new technology, guidelines or even a new virus being introduced, we have to be prepared and resilient to accept the transitions that come our way.
Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty for my classmates and me as we seek to complete the requirements for graduation although our clinic remains closed. I plan to attend the general practice residency program at Mount Sinai in New York City, assuming that I am able to complete my requirements by the scheduled start date of July 1. There is also a possibility that start dates will be delayed. In the meantime, University Hospital has asked dental students to volunteer to help out on the frontlines during our time off from school.
“This pandemic has awakened our society, specifically to the fact that infectious diseases hold a power greater than any of us, regardless of class, race, gender, politics or religion.” Meaghan McCormick
This pandemic has awakened our society, specifically to the fact that infectious diseases hold a power greater than any of us, regardless of class, race, gender, politics or religion. This fact has truly humbled me, yet has also demonstrated the invaluable impact healthcare workers have on our society. I am certainly concerned about entering the field of dentistry now, especially considering that dentists are among the providers who face the greatest risk due to direct contact with the oral cavity and the aerosols created during dental treatment. I am also concerned about patients who, after such a strict shelter-in-place order, will be less inclined to visit their dentists for necessary dental treatments or just routine cleanings, which will affect the oral health of the greater population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to the healthcare setting that I hope will remain for the long term. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of disinfection, in public and in healthcare delivery settings. In the future, I believe more emphasis will be placed on PPE and the sterilization of equipment to prohibit transmission of any diseases. Another branch of medicine that has been strongly utilized during this pandemic is telemedicine. Doctors have been performing routine check-ups, COVID-19 screenings and even certain types of diagnoses over video or telephone calls. In the future, I foresee that dental emergencies, such as pain or swelling, will also be able to be addressed via telemedicine.
Daniella Olan, PharmD
Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Class of 2020
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to graduate early, and I will start a fellowship through the Rutgers program at Sanofi. The pandemic has confirmed my career choice. During this unprecedented and challenging time, people are depending on pharmaceutical companies and researchers to find a vaccine or valid treatment options as soon as possible, and I am excited to hopefully help accelerate this process. In the future, I believe that the healthcare field will be more open to remote patient visits and interactions.
Melissa Olsakowski, MD
Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Class of 2020
I am excited to be joining the skilled pediatricians at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. In the meantime, I am, unfortunately, not able to return to Cooper University Hospital to help the physicians and residents working there. However, I am still aware of the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare providers, patients and their families. Barring visitors from hospitals poses an obstacle to making sure patient and family communication is bi-directional. It puts at risk families’ trust in the treatment team, because they cannot interact in person. Nevertheless, I still feel that it is my duty as a healthcare professional to help in whatever way possible. My classmates and I created an initiative called CritiCall Connections to help critical care physicians, fellows and residents call families to provide at least daily updates about their loved ones. We work to make sure the team knows the amazing and unique attributes of the patients who are alone in their hospital beds.
As the science and data unfold in the coming weeks, months and years, this virus and this period in history will absolutely change healthcare delivery in the future. Despite the uncertainty, COVID-19 serves as the scariest daily reminder of why I chose a career in medicine: to be the person others can trust during the most vulnerable times of their lives.
Nicole Silva, MD
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Class of 2020
I plan to begin my residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in July. Although I have not been recruited to the frontlines of COVID-19, I have volunteered to help call patients who are positive for COVID-19 and follow up with them after discharge from my hospital. I have been assisting the Portuguese-speaking population with guidance and information about COVID-19 and following community members who tested positive or have symptoms and need to communicate in their native language.
“The challenges we have faced should be a rude awakening for healthcare access and infrastructure in the United States.” Nicole Silva, MD
Being a healthcare provider during this pandemic has shown me the weaknesses of the U.S. healthcare system, and how many inequalities exist in access to healthcare. The challenges we have faced should be a rude awakening for healthcare access and infrastructure in the United States. There has not been enough adequate PPE for our residents, interns and even attending physicians. As a result, people are getting very sick, and some doctors have been intubated and have died. Additionally, the fact that in our country, health insurance is dependent on employers is a problem. I believe that our significant population of uninsured and our lack of a socialized healthcare system have allowed capitalization and commercialization of the private sector into healthcare. Ultimately, this might be our greatest downfall as a nation if we do not do something to change it in the future.