In the beginning of my healthcare career I knew one thing for certain: a career in healthcare is an incredible privilege. It is an opportunity to take care of other people. To be an expert regarding the human body. A confidant. So much trust goes into you to be competent and perform at your best. In order to perform at your best, it is imperative to take care of yourself as you expect your patient to take care of his or herself.
Many healthcare workers can relate to the hardships put on us throughout the pandemic, and I have my own story from being an Emergency Department Technician during the Delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, the emergency department was short staffed due to sick callouts, and the department experienced the highest volume of patients. I was picking up extra shifts and working the hardest I ever had during that time period. Due to Delta, I had performed more CPR in that two-month span than I had in the rest of my career combined. I saw more grief than I thought I ever would. There was constant wrestling with the implications of others choosing not to get vaccinated. After the dust from that period settled and things got back to normal, I realized I gained some skills that will be paramount in my future career as a physician assistant.
First, I learned to gain sympathy for others making choices that I would not make. From my experience in a Florida emergency room, most critically ill COVID-19 patients were at-risk and unvaccinated, not necessarily worried about getting sick or the prospect of spreading COVID-19 to other people, but of the vaccine. Just as my social media algorithm was showing me content that was pro-vaccine and the data supporting the reasoning behind getting the vaccine, to protect others and yourself, there were other social media algorithms communicating the opposite. Due to the Illusory Truth Effect, if a person hears the same thing over and over, the more likely the person is to believe it. While I do not know if getting the vaccine is the ultimate right choice, I do know that, due to information I was exposed to at work and on social media, it was the right choice for myself. And I understand why someone else may make the opposite decision. I extend this rationale beyond the COVID-19 vaccine to give patients more understanding, sympathy and patience, while giving myself some inner peace.
Another lesson the pandemic taught me was to prioritize myself. I noticed during my fourth or fifth 12-hour shift of a given week that I would not be performing to my best. My skill execution would be off, I would make more assumptions about patients and be less willing to offer help. This made me think, “if I am not thinking clearly because I am hungry and exhausted, am I really helping anyone?” I realized that there is a reason that three 12-hour shifts were full-time and lunch breaks were made to be taken. I learned to take actions that I knew would help me avoid burn-out, which is too common in this field, in order to be the best healthcare worker I could be. Those actions taken include going on long runs and eating balanced meals, both of which help me maintain a clear head and a positive attitude when faced with adversity.
Currently, I am a full-time physician assistant student and working part-time at an emergency room. This is helpful for me to reinforce the skills I am learning and see real-life application of the information I am learning in class. In addition to helping with the learning process, working with a physician assistant helps me maintain expectations for my future career. Furthermore, continuing to work as a technician reminds me where I started my career and is a reminder to show everyone that I work with respect.
As a future physician assistant, my previous experiences in the emergency room setting will be essential to developing the kind of provider I want to be. I am certain that I will be a more sympathetic, focused and well-rounded provider due to the experiences that I have had. It is very important to take full advantage of this time to be a student and immerse myself in healthcare education to emerge a strong provider. It is an incredible privilege to practice medicine and my patients will only deserve the best from me. And I am excited to give my best.