Healthcare Professionals Reflect on a Year of Working Through a Pandemic

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March 3, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case to hit Westchester County. In the past year, we’ve endured severe changes to schedules, lockdowns, and adjustment to a “new normal.” New York was quickly deemed the “epicenter” of the virus, with cases skyrocketing as each day passed. Twelve New York based healthcare workers were contacted for the purpose of this interview, including doctors, nurses, and physician assistants to ask about their experiences and reflections of the past year. 

We’ve all experienced major changes due the pandemic, so one can only imagine the huge changes that healthcare workers have faced. All twelve of the medical workers interviewed had major changes to report when it comes to their uniforms, contact with patients, and the work they do. 

Healthcare workers have had to get used to wearing heavy masks, gowns, eye protectors, face shields, and gloves. These workers have to wear personal protective equipment, or PPE, for hours on end. Getting tested is a frequent occurrence for many healthcare professionals, as well as having to take part in telemedicine, or communicating with patients online. These workers have had to treat COVID-19 patients, even with the limited knowledge the world had at the beginning of the pandemic. With several immediate changes and more patients, healthcare workers have had to learn to further balance family time and working hours. It can be stressful balancing work with a personal life; however, healthcare workers can’t let the stress get in the way of their job. Many have also witnessed the devastating reality of separating patients from their loved ones.  YHS alumni Dana DeGennaro, who works as a nurse at NYP Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, commented on the emotional toll this situation takes on patients and their families, “For a patient who used to have their family member or friend stay with them 24/7 while in the hospital, they now are restricted to four hours per day in a set block of time and only one person at a time. This often leaves patients who already are feeling lonely and scared, even more alone without their loved ones close by,” Dr. M. Kidwai-Zia, Neonatologist at NYP Hudson Valley Hospital Center, cited the separation of patients and families as “the most heart-wrenching change.” 

Like all changes, some of the ones faced by healthcare workers have the potential of becoming permanent. Almost every person interviewed said that they believed telemedicine would be a permanent change. Patients may begin to choose the more convenient option of seeing their physician online rather than in-person. Telemedicine can help prevent the spread of a condition; however, it lacks the connection that patients and their physicians can make when they’re face-to-face. Other possible permanent changes include wearing masks and intense sanitation. Paramedic Joellen believes in the possibility that health care may become available for everyone “making sure everyone no matter wealth will be able to gain access to the care they will need.” Joellen brought up a positive change that this dark pandemic may provide. Dr. Antonio Petruzzo, Anesthesiologist of NYP Hudson Valley Hospital Center, says that it’s nice to see health care workers get the recognition they deserve for all the important work they do. “This I think will allow more money to be spent on healthcare and encourage more people to enter the health professions.” 

Being a healthcare worker during a pandemic is hard and exhausting; however, what they do is important. They are faced with many interesting experiences, whether they be negative or positive. When it comes to negative experiences, many healthcare workers have been faced with the fear of coming to work. They face the possibility of being exposed to someone with COVID-19 everyday. Many healthcare workers also mentioned having to face a higher mortality rates. There have been positive experiences for workers as well. Healthcare workers have begun to receive the attention and admiration they deserve for what they do. These workers have also connected and become closer than ever before relying on each other. Not only colleagues, but the general public, have begun to help those around them who are struggling. Nurse Molly B, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, discussed the relationship she has been able to create with her colleagues. “I would not have been able to get through the past year without the support of my co-nurses who have become some of my absolute best friends.” Many other workers mentioned the camaraderie of workers. It is very important to have people to lean on during times like this, especially for those witnessing hardships everyday. The bond healthcare workers have built with one another is very important.

With all the experiences these heroes are facing every day, their motivation and emotions towards their job must have been affected. For some, their mental health has suffered. “The pandemic has definitely created emotionally draining periods of time but has been an unwavering testament to the power of the healthcare community in times of need,” says Dr. Kham Ali, Phelps Hospital Emergency Department. For others, this pandemic has further motivated them to help their patients. “I still want to help as many people as I possibly can; it is just a bit more challenging, forcing us to think outside the box,” says Lactation Consultant Sonia Mathisson, NYP Hudson Valley Hospital Center. These workers are honored and feel grateful to do what they do.

Thank you Nurse Molly B, Lactation Consultant Sonia Mathisson, Nurse Susan Pardee, Paramedic Joellen, Dr. M. Kidwai-Zia, Dr. Antonio Petruzzo, Nurse Dana DeGennaro, Dr. James Lindsey, Dr. Kham Ali, Physician Assistant Patrick Sheehan, Physician Assistant Abel Bencosme, and Dr. Raj for taking time out of your busy days to answer questions for this article! Your hardwork does not go unnoticed, the whole world is thankful for you. Also, thank you to all frontline workers who are risking their lives every day for others!