Student Reflections – Responsibilities as a Provider During an Epidemic or Pandemic

Student Reflections by Maha B. Lund, DHSc, PA-C, DFAAPA

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives, providing challenges as well as opportunities for reflection and building resilience. At Emory, as at most PA programs, clinical year students were pulled from their rotations earlier this spring. They have now returned, but during this time away we asked that they reflect on their personal and professional limitations in the face of the pandemic and suggested they consider questions such as:

  • Are providers obligated to care for the sick during an epidemic regardless of their own circumstances?
  • Is potentially getting infected by patients a professional risk we should accept?
  • How do you feel about the public who cheer daily for providers?
  • What are your thoughts on providers who refuse to go to work for fear of infection, either of themselves or family members?
  • Are these thoughts different for providers who may have underlying health issues themselves or may have family members with underlying health issues?

The following is a reflection by Taylor Nagel, a clinical year student in the Emory University PA program. She is originally from East Hampton, NY and plans to stay in the Atlanta area to practice internal medicine after graduation this December.

Responsibilities as a Provider During an Epidemic or Pandemic by Taylor Nagel, PA-S Emory University PA Program

It is both terrifying and exhilarating to think one day those who are spending countless hours studying for exams, reviewing patient cases, or preparing for the next day of surgeries may be eventually called to help fight a global pandemic as part of a healthcare team. We enroll in these healthcare programs hoping to one day help others and further increase access to medicine. I feel that working in medicine is a calling. It is not for the faint of heart or those who lack empathy. Having the privilege to take care of a stranger’s loved one is quite an honor. I do feel that those who are sufficiently qualified and able to find employment should be obligated to care for the sick during an epidemic. As healthcare providers, we should understand the risk but never be afraid of the potential for infection from a patient. Those healthcare providers with underlying medical conditions or living with ill family members are at an even greater risk. Hospital management, manufacturers, local officials, and even national leaders should make certain we have access to effective personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is not a privilege but a right and an expectation for those who put their own health on the line for the greater good of the population.

The outpouring of gratitude and love for all healthcare workers during this pandemic of COVID-19 further proves that those on the frontlines are modern-day heroes. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of viral videos shared on social media platforms during this time that depict citizens standing on balconies and applauding workers during shift change. While this is not required or expected, it is nice to know that essential workers are fulfilling their calling to help others. It is even more humbling to see citizens following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their medical providers, such as staying home when possible, social distancing, and wearing masks in public spaces. I only wish I had been a few more months along in my physician assistant training when the United States reached peak infections so that I could have made a larger impact on the outcome. As I await the day I can return to clinical rotations, I will remember every day that I am lucky to have my health, I am thankful for such selfless essential workers, and I am proud to again work in healthcare in the near future.