When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, no one could have imagined the impact this virus would have on the entire world. According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, updated on March 29, 2021, there have been over 2,790,109 million deaths worldwide and 549, 892 deaths in the United States alone.
During this time, healthcare workers were pushed to their limits as hospitals were filled to capacity with patients. They worked long hours in N-95 masks in order to protect themselves from the virus and try to save the lives of as many patients as possible.
Nothing in their training could have prepared young healthcare workers from going from students in classrooms to medical professionals working in a global pandemic.
Lauren Cimino graduated from Samford University with her Bachelors of Science as a pharmacy student in May of 2017 and graduated as a Doctor of Pharmacy from Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy in May of 2019. The following month, she began working as PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident at DCH Hospital. It was toward the end of the first year of residency that the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The Local staff interviewed Cimino to learn her story of what it was like working during the height of COVID-19 as a pharmacy resident and the challenges she faced
Local: Explain what your job responsibilities are.
I am a second-year pharmacy resident in ambulatory care. This means that I did four years of pharmacy school followed by a year of general pharmacy residency (at DCH hospital in Tuscaloosa), and am now further specializing in ambulatory care, which is essentially outpatient or primary care. Responsibilities change each day, but generally, I am responsible for ensuring that patients know how to take their medications at the clinic.
We see patients from birth to death, meaning we see patients of every age and category possible. I go into exam rooms with physicians and counsel patients on a variety of disease states, help them learn to use insulin for the first time, talk to them about healthy eating and exercise, check their blood levels for certain medications, make sure they know how to use their inhalers and many other things. I also help to educate our medical residents who are training with our program to become family medicine physicians themselves and precept pharmacy students from Samford and ensure that they are fully prepared to go into pharmacy practice once they graduate.
Local: When you first heard about COVID-19, what were your initial thoughts?
My initial thought was that perhaps the virus wouldn’t spread to the US, but that was quickly overshadowed in March of 2020!
Local: When did you know the virus was serious?
I knew the virus was serious when we were at the hospital and heard that Auburn, Alabama, and Samford decided to cancel classes for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. This was the same day we had to build an isolation unit in the Emergency Department for anyone who was suspected of having COVID-19.
Local: How did you adapt as a pharmacy resident in the healthcare field during this time?
I think anyone who works in healthcare would say that we are pretty used to being adaptable. We love what we do and are willing to serve in any area needed. I think it was a big change that I had to make in the level of responsibility I received while at the hospital last year, as I was often caring for patients at the bedside as the sole pharmacist who had to know the ins and outs of all medications during very critical moments (ie traumas, cardiac arrest, etc). It has been fairly easy to adapt, oddly, since everyone else in health care is adapting as well.
Local: Did your job responsibilities change?
Oh yes. I went from helping out in the Emergency Department last year to essentially running it, as far as the pharmacy team went. This year, our clinic has been very involved in vaccinating our low-income patients, and that has become a big responsibility of mine as well. These two years have provided very different responsibility changes, but both equally as rewarding.
Local: What is it like working in a mask?
It isn’t anything very out of the ordinary, working in healthcare. We did not have to wear a mask in every patient room before, only in those with illnesses spread by respiratory secretions. But, we were much more used to wearing them than the general public. What was new to me was running around the hospital in full head-to-toe garb and an N95 mask. Now, we wear N95 masks to vaccinate at the clinic and it seems pretty normal.
Local: What was the most challenging moment during COVID-19 for you?
Probably the most challenging moment was losing our first patient to COVID-19. This was when most of America was doubtful that the virus was real; doubtful that it could truly cause harm…but there I was having just lost a patient to it myself. The patient’s family was not even allowed inside the hospital to see him. That was a very difficult time, and sadly one I know many others have experienced day after day.
Local: What hope do you have for the future?
I have hope that we can get all Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 and things can begin to shift back towards our new “normal.” I have hope that we have learned so much from this last year and now everyone will be more conscious of spreading germs, but will not be afraid. I also have hope that many children will now want to go into healthcare fields having seen what heroes I get to work with every day.