In her third trimester with her first child, Taylor Poynter has a lot to prepare for. Stocking up on diapers is a must, obviously. And, of course, she has been busy readying the nursery for when she and her husband bring the baby home for their first night as a family of three.
But as a physician assistant in the typically-bustling city of Chicago, Poynter said there's a bit more on her plate right now than she expected.
Poynter works in emergency medicine at the AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center, and as the new coronavirus infiltrates cities across the U.S., her worries are mounting.
“We are just now starting to get really busy. In the last week and a half, it’s grown exponentially,” she said. “This has been a huge stressor for me and my husband, and it’s caused a lot of thought. I’ve never been someone who has worried about my health. I always thought I would be on the frontlines taking care of other people. As I’m about to give birth, though, I’m definitely anxious — not so much that I could transmit something to my baby, but that I am going to get sick and never meet my child.”
With the number of confirmed cases increasing significantly every day, many health care professionals are having to work through the fear while continuing to provide round-the-clock care and support.
Poynter, who graduated from Trevecca’s physician assistant (PA) master’s program in 2017, said many of the confirmed cases she’s seeing are originating at a nearby maximum-security prison.
“We are having an increase in confirmed cases. A lot of our cases are unfortunately coming [from a correctional facility], which has created a huge issue within the hospital system,” Poynter said. “We are the closest hospital to this facility, so these patients are getting sick and all coming here. We don’t have the capacity to handle that. There is no training for something like this, but we need a game plan to help these people.”
Tasha Adams, associate professor in the PA program and physician assistant at the Trevecca Clinic on campus, said the current chaos is unprecedented. But despite the anxiety and confusion, she hopes the desire to care for others and faithfulness Trevecca’s program is built upon helps push her former students forward in their work on the front lines.
“We often see patients at their most vulnerable. We talk about things like meeting the patients where they are, and in difficult moments, we want to try to offer hope to those who need it,” Adams said. “We want to prepare our students to care for their patients compassionately and competently and to never lose sight that He is the ultimate source of our hope.”
Adams said one of the main emphases of Trevecca’s PA program is servant leadership, a core value of Trevecca’s mission. In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, Adams says that emphasis is informing her former students’ work now more than ever.
“Part of being a servant leader is knowing your ‘why’ and knowing that excellence in medicine and faith-driven compassion should not be separated. For so many in medicine, it is about so much more than caring for others. Being a faith-based community, we encourage them to follow the example of Jesus and the way He led, which was first to be a servant,” Adams said. “Our goal as a program is to integrate faith and compassion into every area of our curriculum, and to get to see my former students go out and do amazing things for His glory—there is nothing better.”
Julia Wilson, who also graduated from the PA program in 2017, typically works in urology and out-patient medicine for a hospital group in the Seattle area. As of this writing, that area has seen upward of 3,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
For the last several weeks, however, Wilson has been working wherever she is needed. Currently, she is positioned in a mobile testing unit, testing patients for the virus.
“Everything is moving so fast,” Wilson said. “And as everything is changing, there is a lot of anxiety. I’m working right now in one of three mobile testing units, which are basically just tents set up in the far corners of our clinic parking lots. We’re able to test a lot of people.”
She checks the patient’s vital signs and talks with them about symptoms, possible exposures and any pre-existing conditions that could put them at higher risk.
“People are frustrated and confused that we are canceling their cancer visit or a procedure. It’s scary and confusing for so many, but the patients have been so overwhelmingly kind and grateful for the work that we’re doing,” Wilson said. “People are really scared so to be able to offer them information and support, to be someone they can talk to face-to-face-mask, it’s been really cool. We’re all just taking things day by day and seeing how we can be helpful.”
With the numbers of nurses and PAs who are able to provide care quickly dwindling, Wilson said she is preparing for another move. She said she’s been pulling her notes and textbooks out from when she was studying at Trevecca to try to refresh her mind on how to best provide direct-patient care. It’s all just part of the job, she says.
“It’s not everyone’s favorite thing to be in a testing center, but it was part of my mindset that I am young and healthy and have the time, so why not me? Some of the providers I work with are older, and they are worried about bringing something home with them to their families,” Wilson said. “I live by myself, and I’ve been pretty extreme about social distancing for a while now, so I feel that I’m uniquely able to do these things and not put other people at risk.
“This work feels like a very tangible way to feel like I’m helping right now,” she continued, “and if I’m able to help ease some of their concerns as they come through the line, I’m going to do it.”
Poynter agrees. Schooling can prepare you to treat the illness, but she said there is nothing that could provide the kind of calm her faith has given her.
“We’ve had to sit down with patients and allow them to be anxious and fear the unknown. That’s why we're here,” she said. “It’s not always medicine. Sometimes it’s just affirming what someone is feeling and letting them know that they will be taken care of.
“I trust that God is always sovereign, that no matter how hard things are, something good will always come from the chaos, and that the Lord will bring wonderful healing and community to the people who are affected,” Poynter continued. “I trust the Lord to bring peace right alongside the fear. Hope and trust are always greater than the fear.”
To learn more about our PA master’s program, visit www.Trevecca.edu/PA.