• Janelle Suriaga

USF Students in the Healthcare Workforce

The novel coronavirus presented many obstacles for college students. This past spring, the University of St. Francis was among thousands of institutions across the country to transition to remote operations. Graduation ceremonies went online, college sports came to a standstill and residents were forced to quickly move out of their dorms. Interactions with friends, classmates and professors were restricted to FaceTime and Zoom calls. 

But for some students, the pandemic has not only brought changes in their social lives. For students who work in health-related fields, the coronavirus posed several unique challenges. 

One of those students is Joshua Williams, a USF junior Biology major who worked in orthodontics and general dental practice this past summer. When asked about what kinds of challenges he faced, Williams recalls some concerns he had while on the job. “Working in the dental office, your safety is being compromised every second you are in there. Whether it be assisting the doctor with my hands in a patient’s mouth, cleaning a patient’s room after a procedure or just being in the same room with a patient. You never know who could be infected and who isn’t,” he states. 

In addition to risk exposure, workers in healthcare fields continue to run low on personal protective equipment (PPE). Since the start of the pandemic, prices for PPE have increased and the demand continues to outgrow the supply. A press release by the World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the shortage and the increase in PPE costs by calling for national governments to produce more equipment and for healthcare facilities to appropriately reuse equipment. 

For Williams, his workplace was fortunate enough to be properly equipped with PPE. However, it came at a cost that affected the practice’s employees financially. “My office invested a lot of money into PPE and we never had a problem with that, so thank God. But this came as an expense to my personal paycheck as raises were not given out as they were regularly because we spent that on extra PPE. I thought it was a good investment because at the end of the day, it was for the doctor’s and my safety.” 

Another USF student who worked directly with patients over the summer is Franco Rota, a senior Biology major. Rota, whose major is focused on Pre-Physical Therapy concentration,  worked as a rehab aide for an outpatient physical therapy service. He recalls some challenges that he faced over the summer. “Certain COVID-related challenges I encountered were a reduction of hours and a greater difficulty in connecting with patients. It was also difficult observing their facial cues to determine if they were in pain during any specific exercise regimen or treatment plan.” And similar to Williams, Rota’s workplace was not drastically affected by the PPE shortage. “In my healthcare facility, I did not face a PPE shortage or dangerous virus exposure,” he states. 

When students returned back to school, many students noticed several measures they had to adhere to. These measures included using the Involvio app to conduct self-screening and entering campus through designated entryways with temperature-checking screens. This is all part of USF’s Preparedness Plan to ensure that the campus can resume in-person operations. 

When asked about USF’s new policies for the fall semester, both Williams and Rota seemed optimistic about the future.  Rota states, “I believe the college is doing a wonderful job in the reopening process and aiding in making a safe and welcoming learning environment for all. All the professors have been very accommodating in this process. I feel that the Involvio app is very beneficial and good at tracking and screening each student. The temperature screens are also quite reassuring to me.” 

Williams also approved USF’s precautionary measures. “I will give the school credit. I think they are doing a good job so far. I like the idea that I could check my own temperature when walking into the building. I think it is a great resource especially for the students who may be too scared to check it themselves. I also took advantage of the free COVID testing that the school scheduled which I was genuinely impressed with! I think the school is doing what they can for the students to stay safe while also receiving a quality education,” Williams says.  

Williams also notes that although there are more class options available, in-person learning will ultimately benefit most USF students. “While some students learn better online, they still get the in-class experience they would receive prior to the manifestation of the pandemic,” he explains.  

Despite the challenges we’ve faced these past couple of months, it seems like students are looking forward to continuing classes in-person this fall. Although we are still dealing with the pandemic, our education continues. Hopefully, we use others’ experiences to remind ourselves that overcoming this ordeal requires us to be more mindful of each other. 

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