‘So breathtaking’: Idaho high school medical students reflect on the pandemic
They were excited for “extra spring break” in March 2020, when the high school went virtual as COVID-19 arrived in Idaho. They were then freshmen at Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School, just beginning their journey to a career in healthcare.
Now they are juniors. Three-quarters of their trip so far has been in a pandemic. The strife, strife, and vaccine hesitancy that accompanied COVID-19 in Idaho was disappointing, said a few students in an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun. But the pandemic has also given them more motivation to serve their community and pursue careers in healthcare.
Last week, members of the school’s HOSA Future Health Professionals chapter set up stations around their school to distribute 4,000 KN95 masks to students, parents, teachers and anyone else in the community who wanted a additional protection against respiratory viruses.
Encouraged by their advisors, the students distributed more than 2,500 masks to members of the community during their two-day event. They also donated boxes and masks to other schools and other health care students.
“I always wanted to enter the medical field,” said Ananya Vinnamala, president-elect of the chapter. “My biggest goal in life is to be important in someone else’s life and to make them feel appreciated. I really want to do that. With this field, I could do that. I want to have an impact.
Vinnamala’s mother was a pharmacist in India. When she moved to the United States, she was no longer able to do this job, but she inspired Vinnamala’s career goals. (Vinnamala has yet to choose a chosen profession in health care.)
Vinnamala and three other students spoke with The Sun about how the pandemic has shaped their view of the career path they have chosen.
The charter school has approximately 200 students. If they wish, they can graduate with an associate degree or take courses that enable them to obtain graduate of health professions — health care aide, emergency medical technician or pharmacy technician.
When she enrolled in school, Reagan Wiedenfeld thought a career as a nurse would be fun. But as she learned more about the profession, she realized it wasn’t for her – in particular, caring for patients wasn’t for her.
“Actually, I’m hoping to go into public health or epidemiology,” she said. “I want to do more research. I want to do policy making, because I really like politics and government and all that. And I want to combine these two interests. So, in fact, Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, his job is, like, my dream job. I love it. Even if half the world hates him and the other half doesn’t.
One of the emotionally difficult aspects of the pandemic is the feeling of wanting to step in and help on the front lines, but not yet having that ability, Hannah Cathrae said.
“I really want to work with a lot of patients,” Cathrae said. Watching hospitals and clinics struggle during COVID-19 surges made him “want to go and help, because it’s one of the most needed professions right now.”
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They lived through COVID-19 with the rest of the world
Alexis Conway said she contracted COVID-19 in September and missed two weeks of school – and two weeks of homework. His teachers understood. They encouraged her to rest and recuperate instead of worrying about school.
It was hard. But the pandemic has been difficult, Conway and the others said. They “met” their classmates on Zoom. They felt disconnected from their peers and too distracted to learn at home. They missed milestones like prom. They went to work in service jobs where customers and customers were more restless and nervous.
“If the pandemic taught me anything, it’s that I took a lot of things for granted,” Conway said. “I just think my kids and my grandkids, that’s what they’re going to learn in history class. They’re going to learn about the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s like I’m going to be able to have this conversation with my children, my grandchildren. It’s so mind-boggling to me.
Students at the school have also lost people to COVID-19.
“My family is all from India, and COVID there has really affected my family,” Vinnamala said.
His grandfather contracted COVID-19. He was hospitalized and admitted to the intensive care unit before dying of the disease.
She also lost extended family members in India, she said.
“And that was only because they didn’t have vaccines; they didn’t have the resources that America had, and just looking at the amount of resources here, and people weren’t using them properly… it just made me sad,” Vinnamala said.
It only made her more motivated to pursue a healing art, she said. She hopes to be able to travel to India and other countries to help provide medical care to people less fortunate than many Americans.
“Just seeing the hatred towards vaccines here” is disconcerting, she said. “It’s so readily available. And there are so many people who need them in other countries who cannot get them.