COVID-19 and PA Students: How the Pandemic Affected Me

Hunter Gibbs Found a Way to Help

April 7, 2020

By Hunter Gibbs, PA-S

 Hunter Gibbs, a second-year PA student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham shared with AAPA how COVID-19 upended his clinical rotations, the uncertainty he and other students suddenly faced, and how he found a way to help.

Before COVID-19
My classmates and I were starting our third rotation of the year. Before the pandemic reached Alabama, I was just coming off of a rotation in pediatric endocrinology and was a week into my internal medicine rotation. I had worked hard to study over my first two rotations, and I was going to have an end of rotation exam after my internal medicine rotation. Nerves were at an all-time high, but I was loving working with the team. I finally felt like I was cementing all of my didactic knowledge. Despite the nervousness, I was taking my first steps towards joining the workforce.

[COVID-19 Resource Center]

Rotations cancelled
The first week of the rotation, Alabama announced its first COVID-19 case. My classmates and I had seen other schools around the country pulling students off clinicals and switching to a completely online curriculum. We were all waiting, holding our breaths to find out what was going to happen. On March 12, our university sent out a campus-wide message announcing the switch to online classes. There weren’t any changes for clinical students at that time, and we finished our shifts on March 13. We went into the weekend anxious for any more news about cancellations. On Monday, March 15, UAB called off clinical rotations for all students and announced that there would be no in-person learning for the remainder of the spring semester. My clinical education came to a screeching halt.

In academic limbo
Soon enough, my class was discussing graduation date changes, tuition reimbursement, and how we could continue learning effectively without our rotations. I shared these worries, and I still do. Every day I wait to find out more about what is to become of my education. I worry about losing the progress I made during the past two months of clinical experience. It seems like every day brings another email  with more cancellation announcements and the anxiety of possible graduation date changes. Every new notification I receive makes me aware I am in academic limbo. I’m sitting on the sidelines right now, along with many other students around the country.

[AAPA Won’t Rest Until PAs are Fully Empowered to Respond to COVID-19]

“Help however I can”
I moved back to Tennessee to save money and quarantine with my parents. I began studying on my own and relying on my own motivation. I knew I had to find some way to help. Memphis just announced that they are seeing their first influx of COVID-19 cases and are working to open a 1,000-bed temporary hospital. The Tennessee Medical Reserve began pushing for volunteers, and I found my chance to help but also gain experience. I volunteered and am now a contact tracing investigator. There may be an opportunity for me to staff the temporary hospital, but I have found a way to spend my energy and use the skills I learned in PA school.

I wanted to become a PA because I wanted to be an ultra-mobile healthcare provider who could transition in and out of departments and specialties. With the current pandemic, PAs have been called to work in new departments or new fields, highlighting my reasons for wanting to be a PA. As a PA student now, I understand my own limitations during this time. But I can cheer on the healthcare providers on the front lines, mobilize where I am needed, and help however I can.

Hunter Gibbs is currently volunteering as a contact tracing investigator for the state of Tennessee. He can be reached at [email protected].

Please consider sharing your own experience on the front lines of the COVID-19 response with us.

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