What’s It’s Like to be Furloughed During COVID-19

‘So Proud of PAs Working Tirelessly to Care for Patients’

By Rachael Jarman, PA-C

May 20, 2020

Rachael Jarman
Rachael Jarman, PA-C

When I decided on a career path at the young age of 21, I considered many things. Would I be able to help people, would I be in line with my passions, and would it be exciting? The PA profession was an obvious choice because it combined all these things along with an impressive paycheck. After I had children, I came to deeply appreciate my job security as a PA. If I was ready for a specialty change, I was able to move quickly into another position without concern. There was always an opportunity waiting for me if I wanted to take it. I think there were many PAs who felt similarly in previous years. Healthcare equals job. Now we enter a new era, an uncharted time in history. For me, the trusted equation doesn’t add up anymore.

[First National Survey of Physician Assistants on COVID-19 Crisis]

COVID-19 struck the world in December of 2019 and we are left limping behind trying to catch up with its devastation. The disease is sweeping away lives so quickly and quietly it is astounding. We are scrambling to understand its effects on people’s bodies. With social distancing and economic hardships, our communities also battle a mental health crisis. Medical professionals who are feeling out of control, overworked, and underprepared are a part of a second wave of mental health concerns. The trauma of COVID-19 will haunt us for years.

‘I never thought I would be furloughed’
During this national emergency, I never thought I would be furloughed. An urgent care PA being furloughed during the spread of a respiratory illness is like throwing away life preservers as your ship is sinking. When we were first made aware of COVID-19, I was working what felt like endless hours. My leadership role in the Urgent Care allowed me to help facilitate the ever-changing workflows to figure out how to care for patients and staff safely. Once we settled into our rhythm, it seemed like our department could take a breath before the surge hit. The breath for me turned out to be staying home until further notice.

‘Being removed felt embarrassing’
Being removed from patient care during a global medical crisis felt embarrassing. My personhood was diminished. One day I felt like I was part of a group of warriors; the next, my stripes were removed and I was told I wasn’t needed. Logically I knew that I was still a valuable person and the change in my employment status didn’t need to be humiliating. There was a massive shift in patient volumes because we could no longer see non-essential patients. As minor illness and injuries stopped presenting to Urgent Care, the financial picture became more dismal and something had to give.

Rachael Jarman and her family
Jarman with her family.

The first week I was home felt fuzzy. The edges of reality were hard to find. How does one operate in a new paradigm that doesn’t include patient care? It is difficult but I know I am lucky in so many ways. I still have health insurance. I get a portion of my salary replaced by unemployment checks. I have three girls who are over the moon with excitement that for the first time ever they get to have a stay-at-home mom. Even so, this is not the life I crafted for myself and my family.

Sense of urgency for advocacy
Being benched, however, has not taken away my love of the PA profession or the sense of urgency I have for advocacy. Every day I find time to support my fellow PAs and help my state organization push for our advancement. This is the one way I can support our community from afar, even though I am not in direct patient care.

The worst part of the furlough is the ambiguity of it all. Like the rest of the world, I sit and wonder what’s next. When will I be called back? How long will this last? Will medicine change forever? Instead of ignoring these questions or avoiding the feelings they bring up, I’ve chosen to lean in to the unknown. This time away from my calling is time for me to recalibrate.

‘So proud of PAs working tirelessly to serve patients’
I’ve heard this place in history referred to as “the great pause” and that describes the feeling I have surrounding my furlough. And while I get comfy in my new surroundings, I want to say that I am so proud of our PAs who are out there working tirelessly to serve patients. You are the stability during the COVID-19  crisis. I wish my circumstances were different and that I was out there with you. In these incredibly stressful times, in all the unknowns, I am sending you all the love from the bench.

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Rachael Jarman is supervising PA at HealthPartners in Bloomington, Minnesota, and president of PA Trek Coaching, a coaching business designed to help students gain admission into PA programs. Contact her at [email protected].

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