EXETER–In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) has been working with doctors and nurses to help assist with testing patients at the South County Hospital tent.
Exeter resident Peter Medici, a double major in biology and public health at JWU, first started working at South County Hospital during his junior year, where he served as a technician and scribe. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic upended daily life, Medici’s duties went from documentation and performing EKGs to assisting medical providers with testing patients for the virus.
“Prior to COVID-19, I was a medical technician and scribe. So I do the patient documentation, I run some tests for them, do some lab work. I also get to do splint applications, and EKGs and important things like that, just to assist them and the nurses as well,” Medici said. “And now with COVID-19, we test patients in their car in the tent. So I go with the provider or the nurse, whoever’s doing the swab, and I assist them in the collection of the COVID-19 test.”
When patients come to the hospital complaining of respiratory symptoms, they are directed back to their car, where they’re evaluated through a telehealth visit.
After the patient is evaluated, Medici and a doctor, nurse or physician’s assistant–dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE)– will meet the patient at the back of the facility to administer the nasopharyngeal swab.
“They are evaluated over the phone and we go out to the back of our facility and bring a swab, which is a nasopharyngeal swab, meaning it goes pretty high up, it feels like it’s almost touching your brain,” he said. “It’s very uncomfortable.”
“When you’re out there with someone who you think has COVID-19–you have to assume everyone does–you get dressed in all the PPE–the face shields, the gowns,” he said. “There’s me and the provider or nurse who’s doing the swab.”
After it is administered, Medici will then run the swab to the hospital’s outpatient lab for the results of the test.
Medici, who hopes to go on to physician assistant school after graduating, said he wouldn’t have been prepared to assist with the testing without his background in biology and health sciences.
“Having a science background is really important when you’re working in any type of medical facility,” he said. “They really provided me with the feeling of confidence, [because] I had that prior knowledge to be successful and not feel uncomfortable in situations that could be uncomfortable for most people.”
“The classes that I take–anatomy, microbiology–those types of classes that can be applied clinically, those are really helpful in terms of applying them to my job,” he continued. “I think it’s really useful in terms of the diagnosis of a patient and seeing the doctor’s decision-making of how they diagnose a patient, and it all comes full circle in terms of having that medical knowledge from school and applying it to my job.”
While Medici said the experience was unnerving at first, he went on to say that he’s since adjusted to seeing the opportunity as a learning experience, one in which he can use his background and experience to help others.
“I’m still a student and I have aspirations to go to physician assistant school. To me, it’s a little bit scary at first,” he said. “But I changed my outlook a little and I realized that, when am I going to have another opportunity to learn from working in a pandemic?”
“I’ve learned so much about how to deal with patients in terms of safety, protecting yourself and protecting everyone else,” he added. “It may seem scary for a lot of people, and I get that, but I also think that it’s a huge learning opportunity. I’ve kind of become a sponge in the fact that I’ve learned so much just by seeing how everyone reacts and how the world is changing.”
And he’s found the opportunity to help others, especially during a pandemic of such massive proportions, a fulfilling one.
“My job already was just one big learning opportunity for me, and this has turned itself into even more of a learning opportunity, in terms of how to protect yourself and really advocated for the patient,” he said. “Because everybody’s worried about this. Everyone thinks that they could have it, everyone’s not sure if they have it. It’s good to see that we’re making a difference. “
Medici, who will officially graduate next week, said that having to spend the tail end of his senior year under the shroud of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a disappointment, to say the least.
“At first you kind of get bummed because you don’t get to see your friends, you don’t really get to say bye, which is tough for everybody,” he said. “I know when I’m done with school next week, I’m going to close my laptop and that’s that. There’s no walking across the stage, which at first, that kind of hurts, because you work all four years to get that diploma.”
And working 40 to 50 hours a week at the South County Hospital, on top of his regular course work, has been taxing.
“It’s been an adjustment, especially working through this, more than I normally would,” he said. “I’m working 40 to 50 hours a week and trying to take five classes all online is kind of a lot.”
Nevertheless, the experience has made him all-the-more ready for physician assistant school, and eventually, to go into the medical profession himself.
“This has prepared me so much to see what it’s like to work through a disease of such magnitude, and how it’s affecting our entire nation,” he said. “I think it made me excited and invigorated to keep going in this profession, and just go full speed ahead. I can tell how I fit in, in terms of medicine.”