Written by Jack Dubuque ’21
Before entering medical school, I worked for eight years as a registered nurse in the emergency department at UVM Medical Center, finally hanging up my nursing scrubs at the start of my clerkship year at the Larner College of Medicine. I did not expect to return to my roots, but as the COVID-19 pandemic began to upend the lives of everyone in our community, I started to explore how I could help while continuing my medical education along with my classmates through remote instruction. After renewing my nursing license with the help of the Vermont State Board of Nursing, I started work in the UVM Medical Center Emergency Department within one week thanks to the fantastic management team.
Since returning to the bedside in the ED, I have been impressed with UVM Medical Center’s response to the pandemic. With the CDC’s statistical modeling and the assistance of the Vermont Department of Health, the normally busy ED was preparing for surges in patients up to 300 percent of the normal volume. New buildings were quickly constructed, and the Vermont National Guard was on site to help manage the increased flow of patients. I have never seen anything like it.
Much of my time has been spent in triage, where patients presenting to the ED are screened according to how sick they are. Major changes have been implemented to help keep those with COVID-like symptoms separate from those who do not, but still need emergency care. Working in triage has been an excellent application of my training as a newly minted fourth-year medical student, as I have honed my history-taking skills through thousands of hours of clinicals.
It has been an honor supporting my colleagues and community through this unprecedented time of need. My fellow nurses, EMTs, physicians, PAs, and all the other support staff have really stepped up to help our community. Although we are on the front lines in the emergency department, we have been vigilant in our attention to detail to minimize our exposure to COVID-19 to keep all staff members, patients, and community members safe. The local community has also been incredible in supporting the health care workers on the front lines, by providing food for staff who might not have the time or want to risk exposing others to the virus by visiting grocery stores.
Finally, this experience has shown me just how community-minded Vermonters are. Total patient visits have decreased from what they were before the pandemic, and Vermont has experienced lower levels of COVID-positive patients than expected. Vermonters taking physical distancing seriously is likely one of the main reasons why we have not seen as many cases as other areas of the country. As a born and raised Vermonter, I am proud to see how we have handled these tragic and uncertain times.