PAHx PA Week Winners!

Congratulations to our three winners for our PA Week Student Drawing: Whitney Tucker, Mykala Thompson, and Elena Bantle!

To enter the contest, PA students had to submit how the COVID-19 Pandemic had affected their time at PA school OR how they were helping out in their communities during the Pandemic. Read the amazing responses from our three winners below.

Whitney Tucker – University of Kentucky

In early March 2020 my classmates and I were wrapping up our last midterm exam prior to beginning Spring Break. Little did we know it would likely be the last time we were all together as one cohort; with COVID-19 rampaging throughout the world, the University of Kentucky followed along with the rest of the nation and closed its doors, launching into virtual education, in what seems like, overnight. I am the Vice President for the University of Kentucky Physician Assistant Program’s Class of 2021 and was fortunately selected by professors and directors to join a panel of faculty members to develop a plan of action to return students to campus as soon as, and as safely as possible.

Our workgroup got to down to business right away. We began by discussing the unique impact that each cohort would face – our graduating class of 2020 was wrapping up rotations when they were pulled off and alternate arrangements needed to be made for their graduation. The class of 2022 was in the middle of gross anatomy lab that was swiftly transitioned to virtual anatomy in conjunction with an outside university, and the soon to be class of 2023 were preparing to interview which would also necessitate alternative plans given our in-person, MMI style would now be done over Zoom. As for my own cohort, we were finishing up clinical skills lab exams including orthopedic splinting, casting, and suturing in addition to hoping the healthcare industry would open up to students in time for our rotations to begin in July 2020. Each of these challenges were carefully considered.

Our group met weekly to address the continuous changes and updates to COVID-19 guidelines. We discussed PPE shortages, a lack of preceptors, developed return to campus protocols, how to conduct interviews, and much more. Through it all, I believe if COVID-19 has taught the current PA students anything, regardless of cohort, it is to remain diligent in our pursuits, hopeful for the future, and flexible. When I think of these attributes that we have all had to embrace at one point or another during this pandemic, it reminds me of the history and inception of the Physician Assistant profession – we are called to stand in the gaps of medicine, to be ready when we are called upon, to remain dedicated to our patient-centered care, and to continue building bridges and bringing forth solutions.

COVID-19 has also affected me personally, with two aunts and a grandmother being diagnosed with COVID-19 and all three have successfully recovered. While COVID-19 has impacted each individual in their own way, this season of life has overwhelmed me with gratitude. Gratitude for the ways that our communities have unified, gratitude for the unexpected time spent at home with my newlywed husband (who is also in a graduate program as a 3rd year doctorate of Physical Therapy student in Huntington, WV). Gratitude for the quick healing for each of my family members and anticipation for the next time I get to hug my Memaw tightly. Gratitude for a halt on interest for student loans. COVID-19 may have been difficult and unsettling as a soon to be 3rd year PA student on rotations, but it has brought me far more blessings than I could have imagined.

Mykala Thompson – Hardin-Simmons University

Starting PA school during the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult. You work so hard to finally make it to the school of your dreams to find out that it is going to be nothing like you thought it would be. Schedules change at the last minute, and you can’t get as close to your classmates, faculty, or the community due to social distancing. Even though I understand all these precautions I am saddened by the fact that the idea of PA school that I had in my head, and that I was told so much about from upper classmen, is not the way I get to experience it. With that being said, our faculty and program has done an outstanding job to ensure that we still get the most out of every opportunity. We can still have some lectures in person, we still have labs, but they are just in smaller groups, and we help by cleaning the facilities on a daily basis and after we interact with anyone or touch with anything. I am so blessed to be where I am today.

Elena Bantle – The College of St. Scholastica

COVID has upended what it means to be a helper—what it means to “show up.” It’s required rethinking the kinds of things we do to be kind—dropping off a hotdish, offering to watch a friend’s kids, visiting a neighbor—suddenly these aren’t such a good idea anymore. Add to that a pattern of police brutality bringing about racial uprisings, and it’s been a year for creative problem-solving in community.

When COVID-19 arrived in the US, my friends and family in healthcare told me they did not have the protection they needed to do their jobs. They were terrified that it wasn’t coming. That scared me too, and I reached out to my network to round up N95s to send to them. It quickly became clear that with a team and some coordination, we could scale up our efforts. Such groups had started to crop up around the country, and by that evening, I was on a Zoom call with the Seattle Mask Brigade, who was sharing coordination plans and strategies with others around the country. The next day, together with three friends we launched the Twin Ports Mask Brigade, serving the Duluth MN/Superior WI area.

We prioritized collection of N95 masks, but also gathered surgical masks, dust masks, gloves, gowns, and cleaning products. We developed partnerships with local 3D printers who printed around the clock, churning out hundreds of protective face shields. From March to July, we collected over 2,400 masks (mostly off of people’s front porches) and distributed all of them to about 60 sites in and around Duluth MN and Superior WI. As supply chains began to catch up with demand, we were able to supply not only healthcare providers but also staff and residents in congregate settings like drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence shelters, teen shelters, and to hundreds of community members via a campaign by an incredible team of volunteer organizers through the Duluth NAACP.

The generosity and compassion this project allowed us to witness was unbelievable. We received donations of masks and PPE from transplant patients, from people who gave us every mask they had, from teachers who had purchased PPE for their students but then saw their schools close. People donated money, and those funds went to help people sewing masks to buy fabric and elastic. This project was also a window into the desperation of the time. We received requests for orders of magnitude more than we were able to provide; and we received requests from the whole spectrum of healthcare: from individual PCAs to governmental bodies and hospital departments.

The pandemic is far from over, and already it has reshaped our expectations, actions, and community. A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that my first year of PA school would look like this one, just as I couldn’t have imagined a ragtag group of friends becoming part of the supply chain for our local hospitals in a pandemic.

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