Physician Assistants Serving During COVID-19

Published in Spring 2020 in Historical Happenings

Written by Madison Taylor, PA-S, MPH/MMSc Candidate

In the beginning of 2020, the United States had its first case of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. The virus spread quickly to all 50 states, and the capacity of America’s healthcare system began to be tested. Physician Assistants became a vital tool to combat the virus. Here are the experiences of two new Georgia PAs, who traveled from Georgia to New York and New Jersey to serve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alexis Clayton, PA-C graduated from South University in 2019. She has practiced in the fields of gynecology and urology for the past year.

Where are you serving during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am currently serving at Harlem Hospital in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What lead to your decision to travel across state lines to help with the COVID-19 pandemic?

At the start of the pandemic, due to shelter in place restrictions, many Georgia clinics were slow, with few patients. Elective surgeries were cancelled to prevent the spread of the virus, significantly decreasing the patient load. However, it was clear that it was the opposite scenario in NYC. There were not enough providers to care for the overwhelming number of patients affected by COVID-19. Harlem Hospital had roughly three times as many patients as they normally do. When I found out about the opportunity to deploy to New York, I immediately knew I was in a place in my life that I could help. It was an easy decision for me to make as I believe it is my duty to care for patients.

How did your experience in NYC compare to that in Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic?

When I was in Georgia at the start of the pandemic, surgeries began to cancel, but clinics were still open, and we were seeing patients. It was slower than usual, but life had not dramatically changed. When I got to NYC, it was extremely clear the effects COVID-19 can have on a community. A normally bustling town was silent with empty streets. The many hospitals throughout NYC were running out of PPE, oxygen and ventilators. There was not enough staff nor resources to support the number of cases in the city. Because of the dense population in NYC, the community was very hard hit in comparison to Atlanta.

How do you think this experience shaped your PA career?

This experience has dramatically impacted not only my career as a PA, but my life overall. Being a fairly new PA, I had to learn critical care and general medicine over the span of a few days. On top of this, we had to learn as a team how to fight a disease we have never seen before. As a provider, I have become more experienced, more adaptable and more compassionate. This journey has reinforced my love for the PA profession. I am thankful I get to practice as a PA every day.

Arlene Salmon, PA-C is a practicing emergency medicine PA and an associate professor at Mercer University in the PA program since 2019.

Where did you serve or where are you serving during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I served in three different capacities. The first was (and continues to be) as a PA in the ER in Georgia. The second was in New Jersey to work in a COVID step down unit at the Meadowlands Exhibition Center. It was a FEMA “field hospital” where patients were transferred from the hospital to make room for sicker patients. Most had an oxygen requirement of 4-6 liters; our main focus was helping them to progress from this O2 requirement to being able to go “home.” We had physical therapists, radiologic technologists, social workers, nurses, doctors and advance practice providers. It was interesting because many patients did not receive regular medical treatment prior to being diagnosed with COVID PNA, so we were managing these as well (diabetes, hypertension). I don’t feel I was on the “front lines” as you saw on the news. Instead, I was in the support role of helping many of those affected, who would not have progressed as quickly without our help. Many were very sick and had every aspect of COVID-19, which helped me learn about the disease. As a result, I will be able to bring back to Georgia what I learned from treating these patients in New York. The last way I am serving is by working at Mercer PA Program to provide the best on-line education for the students who have been working so hard to continue to learn and grow in our program.

What lead to your decision to travel across state lines to help with the COVID-19 pandemic?

As my dad says, I have always been a “helper.” My white coat makes me run toward a problem vs. shy away. I just couldn’t sit in the comfort of my living room watching the situation in New York and New Jersey, where they obviously were getting exhausted and needed additional skilled hands and minds. I had the skill set–I needed to use it for good. I think my military background probably contributed to this mindset as well.

How did your experience in NYC compare to that in Georgia during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Until I went to New Jersey, I did not really understand the scope of the disease. It is one thing to read about all of the effects COVID-19 can have on the body; it is another to see it firsthand and see the respiratory distress and toll on the human body it can cause. How do you think this experience shaped your PA career? Every time we put ourselves into different experiences, we grow and learn. I know that this very short period of time I spent in New Jersey will make me a better provider and more aware of the global pandemic.