The Pitt Prescription is a bimonthly blog in which Elizabeth Donnelly, a pharmacist student and senior researcher, gives tips on how to stay healthy in college.
When I went to pharmaceutical school last August, I had no idea what my second semester would look like. If you had told me that I would take online courses on dosage forms and dosage design, or that all of my interactions with patients would be over the phone rather than in person, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I had used this blog to post a personal story about what works in healthcare during a pandemic, instead of my usual tips and tricks, I would have thought you were lying.
But that goes for me and my new pharmacists here at Pitt. In these extremely strange and unpredictable times, medical students and teachers are confronted with many uncertainties and obstacles. If your entire curriculum is based on interaction with patients, how do you behave remotely? Zoom and other online platforms are useful for didactic lessons, but for students already working in medical institutions like mine, distance learning does not have the same effect.
The idea behind online education is that students and instructors do not have to meet in the same place to see the teaching materials. Instead, we can participate without leaving the house, at a safe distance from everyone else, hoping to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Many students decided to leave Pittsburgh and return to their comfortable apartments to finish the semester. I was offered this opportunity, but I could not leave because I was working in a hospital pharmacy at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. While many other institutions have closed down, large organisations such as hospitals are still active.
A week before autumn I started working in a pharmacy and it was a great learning experience for me. The opportunity to work in the same field as where I study at school is very useful because it connects my scientists with my professional experience.
Despite the fact that we are dealing with a pandemic, our pharmacy is still functioning normally. The biggest change that has been made is that all employees are assessed when they enter the facility. When you come in, tell the ward where they make sure you don’t have any of the usual symptoms of COWID-19 – fever, cough or shortness of breath. If you have no symptoms, you will be given a mask and can continue where you need to go.
To be honest, our workload has not increased since the pandemic was declared, probably because children are not exposed to the risk of the virus. For the rest, it was a little more manageable because many electoral procedures were cancelled or postponed. As COWID-19 spreads across the United States, I think hospitals will see an increase in the number of admitted patients, but for the time being we are not overstretched with capacity.
The biggest problem we face is a shortage of supply. We cannot use products or brands that we normally use, but we can always get the materials and supplies we need for our work. This mainly occurs in the IV room, the so-called clean room, which is a sterile preparation room in the pharmacy.
We need to disinfect everything that enters the room and all products used in the composition, so we need to go through a lot of alcoholic sprays and tissues. The regular wipers we receive have an order book, so we have to use much larger alternative wipers. We also have to be careful not to waste them with our masks, because they are very popular right now.
I’m really a little nervous at work in the hospital because I know that a lot of health workers in other areas are infected. Because I am young and have a strong immune system, I know that statistically speaking I can’t die if I take KOVID-19, but I can still get very seriously ill, which I want to prevent. As part of my job, I supply certain medications to patient wards throughout the hospital, and this task is becoming increasingly important to me. The Covid 19 virus is highly contagious, so I feel that every medication I take completely exposes me to an increased risk of infection. That’s why I isolate myself completely from others when I’m not at the pharmacy.
I haven’t seen any friends, family or other relatives outside of work for about two weeks. I’ve come so far as to schedule a zoom meeting in advance to make sure I have a healthy level of human interaction on days when I don’t go to the pharmacy.
The only employees who do not work in the pharmacy are Uber’s drivers, who are also considered to be the most important employees today. The port authority has reduced the frequency of the buses and their routes, which makes it much more difficult for those of us who do not have a car, including myself. That’s why the cleaners are my new main means of transport.
Surprisingly, there are still a lot of people who want to drive with strangers, but after talking to several drivers I realized that there are some important reasons, such as income. Some drivers were reluctant to accept me as a driver when they saw me in a black coat because they were afraid there was a medical officer nearby. Honestly, I don’t blame them. Luckily I haven’t been refused a trip yet, but I expect this to happen when the KOVID-19 load is lifted.
After all, donating black coats and working in a pharmacy is a rewarding experience for which I am grateful. If you had told me a year ago that we were in the middle of a global pandemic and that I was considered irreplaceable, I would not have known how to react. As a healthcare professional, I see the difficulties my colleagues are experiencing and I understand how difficult this situation is for many people, especially those diagnosed with the virus. I am happy that I can play a role in helping my hospital during this period, because that is why I have chosen healthcare – I want to help others, even if it means putting my own health at risk.
All I ask of everyone who reads this is to stay at home and practice social distance. I will work every week with the ability to deal with the disease to try and fight the pandemic, so the least you can do is follow the advice of health officials and stay away from others. Any social interaction increases the risk of infection or spread of VIDOC-19, so wait a while and use other forms of communication. Stay safe (and thank all the important people who are honoring our community now)!