Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-med students have continued their studies while experiencing the difficulties and importance their field of medicine holds.
For Wil Nightengale, a biochemistry senior, the pandemic gave him a chance to use his skill set to impact the community, motivated by how the field of medicine has impacted his own family.
“At a fairly young age my older brother had cancer, so we spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals and even though I was really young at the time, I was just absolutely fascinated by the way everything worked,” Nightengale said. “Every time (the doctor) came into the room, you felt the pressure, the weight of a lot of the anxiety and things like that lift off my parents shoulders, and I think those are feelings, or at least a personality that I want to grow and be able to emulate for other people.”
Nightengale said he saw a way to impact his community through working at a Walmart pharmacy, then his work gained importance as worries arose with COVID-19.
“The week after spring break in March, we went from filling like 400 prescriptions a week to 750 (or) 800 for the two or three weeks after, and so it was really busy, but the work felt fulfilling,” Nightengale said. “It felt nice to be able to help people in that immediate time of need moving on into the last summer. … It felt good to be needed in my line of work.”
Nightengale also said the pandemic showed how public health can impact the community and how individuals can make a difference. He said this became apparent to him while he worked at a COVID-19 testing center for Walmart.
“I worked there a few times over the summer and I really enjoyed it,” Nightengale said. “It was just another one of those times where it felt like not the most life-saving work, but it was still worth it and it made a difference. It was something that I could be proud of, at the end of the day I felt like my skill set was not going to waste and I was able to use it to help other people.”
Devin Brown, a foundational sciences of life in the universe junior — which he created through a program in the College of Arts and Sciences — said the pandemic highlighted the health concerns within his community, but it also showed the importance of his coursework.
“The health concerns exist for a lot of us, we see the issues in our own families. We see the issues in our communities, but (COVID-19) has highlighted a lot of those things,” Brown said. “You do take more pride in your work because you're seeing how important all of this work is not just public health, but also medicine because that's the frontline for combating this pandemic.”
Brown said feeling pride in his coursework makes him more eager to enter the field of medicine and to take a practical approach to the health disparities COVID-19 exposed.
“It has not discouraged me at all — COVID-19 has been a bigger motivation to get into medicine,” Brown said. “I think it's strengthened my passion for public health, and it's helped me see firsthand how you can take a public health approach to health concerns. … It's helped me become more passionate and more committed to this idea that public health has to be a part of my work as a physician in the future.”
Heather Robinett, a chemical biosciences junior, also said the pandemic made her take more appreciation for her daily coursework and it showed ways the medical field can improve on its communication with the public.
“I feel like a lot of times scientific language and scientific research is not accessible to people who haven’t studied science all the time, just like many articles I read over the situation in scientific journals and stuff like those were things I was learning in my 3000 level classes. I was like, ‘How is the public supposed to understand this and really get what this means,’” Robinett said. “So if anything, I think (COVID-19) made me appreciate my courses more and made me appreciate what I want to do with my courses.”
Nightengale also said the medical field’s communication could be improved as misinformation during the pandemic continues to spread.
One of the many ways misinformation has spread through social media has been individuals feeling “burnt-out” due to constant bad news\trying to seek positive articles, leading to misinformation, according to a Medical News Today article.
Nightengale said there have also been studies spread through social media that aren’t always accurate,
“Just because human bias exists, you know, it's good practice to trust the science, but not the scientists,” Nightengale said. “That's why these (studies) should be independently reviewed, which is something that I have looked forward to maybe trying to get a little bit involved in.”
Nightengale said seeing the spread of misinformation has “heightened” his motivation to enter the medical field.
However, Robinett said her new motivation has stemmed from seeing how the healthcare workers came together as a community.
“There’s so much more spotlight on the medical field and how hard the people work there,” Robinett said. “It shows the people in the field and how dedicated they are to serving others and to really being a part of a working society in the best way they can. It just inspired me more because it's something like I would love to be a part of, and I think it's a really special community.”