Creighton Residents, Fellows a ‘Shining Light’ in Pandemic

Creighton Residents, Fellows a ‘Shining Light’ in Pandemic

By Joann Porter, MD’92
Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education and Designated Institutional Officer
Creighton University School of Medicine

Creighton residents and fellows have played a vital role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, working tirelessly on the front lines to care for those patients. They have served a critical need in the ongoing pandemic, showing true courage and commitment. Residents and fellows have been at the forefront of patient care and personal risk, as Omaha and Phoenix hospitals added extra units and beds to care for the increased number of patients. 

Our physician residents and fellows sacrificed their regular training assignments so they could be redeployed to care for the sickest COVID patients. They worked in new hospital environments and put in extra hours, often up to 80 hours a week. After finishing their regular rotations, they frequently filled in on the ICU service, doubling their usual workload. They even volunteered, on their days off, at COVID-testing units.

The emotional toll on these physicians was extensive, as they cared for dying patients who had no family members at their bedsides. They provided medical care and a hand to hold, at a time when they could not travel to support their own family members who were sickened by COVID-19. 

During times of personal loss, when some residents and fellows lost family members to COVID, they continued to care for patients despite concerns about contracting COVID themselves. In Nebraska, they traveled to Grand Island to care for the large number of patients infected from working at meat-packing plants, and in the Phoenix area they willingly staffed underserved community clinics. They consistently cared for people who were disproportionately affected – more likely to be infected and hospitalized – at our primary teaching hospitals and other surrounding hospitals. They got up every day and replayed those scenes over and over.

During the COVID surge in the spring, residents and fellows in Omaha and Phoenix missed outpatient rotations, lost opportunities to perform elective surgeries, and had to postpone vacation time to work in ICU and pulmonary at our teaching sites. These hours cost them family time and disrupted their research time and other learning, right when they could not even gather for social support as didactics were switched to virtual. Yet, our residents and fellows lined up to volunteer for extra work. In true Creighton spirit, they were ready to serve. They did this understanding it could impact their ability to graduate on time and go into independent practice.

Some volunteered as leaders in scheduling the care needed in the COVID units. Other residents and fellows led by example, especially for underrepresented populations, by publicly being among the first to receive the COVID vaccine.

Board certification was delayed for some of our graduating residents. The challenges and stresses were vast, and we witnessed personal insecurities, exhausted residents and frightened faces behind their masks. This required a tremendous amount of support from our program directors, associate program directors, faculty and staff. In June, we celebrated our graduates in novel ways, virtually or even by having a ceremony at a local drive-in theater. We were proud of our graduating residents and fellows because they were so well versed in cura personalis and the magis, demonstrated over and over during the pandemic.

In the second surge in the fall, residents and fellows went right back to the same sacrifices, as even more patients were sickened with COVID-19 than in the springtime. These are truly physicians who see medicine as a sacred calling and as a privileged opportunity to serve humanity.

Everyone has come together as a unit during this historical time and support each other and our Creighton community. The shining light during this pandemic is watching our entire Graduate Medical Education (GME) community unite, serve and lead. In order to provide care to all patients at this time, the Creighton GME communities in Omaha and Phoenix have learned to be nimble and responsive.