Pandemic leaves its mark on New Mexico's newest generation of doctors | KOB 4

Pandemic leaves its mark on New Mexico's newest generation of doctors

Joy Wang
Updated: December 07, 2020 10:36 AM
Created: December 05, 2020 08:39 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hospital workers across the state are finding themselves feeling overwhelmed from treating COVID-19 patients, and doctors-in-training are no exception. 

At the state’s only academic and Level One trauma center, UNM Hospital is teaching residents and fellows in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Dr. Julia Howard is an internal medicine resident in her second year. 

“There's certainly a lot of unknowns. We're learning more about COVID and it's an evolving situation so that's been challenging during a time when we're getting training and getting all the tools we need to be full independent physicians,” Dr. Howard said. 

Dr. Emily Ball recently finished three years of residency in emergency medicine and it now a critical care fellow working in the ICU. 

“Ended up catching COVID myself here,” Dr. Ball said. “ I was scared because you see people who are young and not really at risk of infection and people have had blood clot complications, and so I was pretty worried about that. I've luckily been okay and I didn't have any major long-lasting effects. I was only sick a brief amount of time, but a lot of our friends are falling ill so it's scary.”

As the pandemic leaves its mark on the newest generation of up and coming physicians, many of them are asking people to continue staying home and masking up. 

“My patients are mostly intubated, or they're on very high support of either oxygen by nasal cannula under pressure or a mask under pressure. It's really hard to communicate with patients,” Dr. Ball said.

For many doctors-in-training, it’s difficult knowing family members are being kept apart. However, hospitals will sometimes make visitation exceptions for patients in critical care if their other family members have also tested positive.  

“Sometimes I use like FaceTime on my cell phone and talk to people. We get into pretty dire straits where people need to make decisions about what they want us to do for them and their loved ones,” Dr. Ball said.

After working long hours, these workers head home—trying not to bring the virus or the emotions with them. 

“When I get home I’m taking a shower right away and I keep my scrubs in a specific part of the house. Same with the shoes that I wear to the hospital. I keep them right by the front door to try to consolidate everything that's in the hospital to one spot of my house,” Dr. Howard said. 

Treating COVID patients is a team effort. Dr. Ball said trainee doctors from every medical specialty are being asked to help during the pandemic.

"We're recruiting help from all sides basically, so we have pulled in residents who are—they're specializing in neurology, they're specializing in family medicine. They aren't used to being in the ICU, and we're kind of just getting everyone in to help out," she said.

The fellows and residents are doing what they can to help themselves and their patients through this trying year. 

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