Karly Van Slyke and Dawson Groves are both students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Public Health, Community Health program at the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health. Karly plans to graduate in December of 2020 with a minor in Epidemiology and Africana Studies, and Dawson plans to graduate in December of 2021 with a minor in Epidemiology and Informatics. They both serve as patient care techs at St. Vincent Hospital. Before the COVID-19 crisis, they provided care for surgical cancer patients, now they both work on floors serving COVID-19 patients. As Karly describes life right now, if they are not at the hospital, they are working to keep up with school, sleeping, and then back at the hospital again.
As students working on the front lines, Karly and Dawson both shared their stories as health care workers to help encourage IUPUI students and alumni to practice social distancing and to understand the challenges that health care workers face during this public health crisis.
Dawson and Karly said their public health education has helped them in their approach to patient care. They both believe that the training they have received in the Community Health program has helped them understand the importance of care and empathy for different Patients. They have learned how to connect the relationship between the patient and their current health situation, as well as identify resources once a patient discharges from the hospital.
With COVID-19 continuing to spread throughout Indiana, both Dawson and Karly describe the heartbreaking reality of watching their colleagues.
“A lot of people on our floor are vulnerable,” Dawson said, who mentioned that some nurses in his unit have sent their children to stay with other family members.
The emotional toll they see each day of individuals who are caring for COVID-19 patients and have to make challenging decisions between caring for their family members and patients is one reason they want to speak out and encourage social distancing. Having watched nurses who are parents, Karly said she can see and feel their fear, and she understands.
“If I could take the role of somebody that has a kid at home right now, I [would].”
Dawson, who is from a rural town in Indiana, is also concerned about the future in rural areas. He described that in urban areas, it was easy to see the immediate reduction of crowds at grocery stores and traffic congestion, which helped others understand the importance of social distancing. In rural areas, these apparent displays of social distance efforts, are not as front and center.
“[In the city] we’re able to instantly see that difference of grocery stores clearing out, less traffic and less people walking,” Dawson said. “Whereas, in small towns, you have the normal of no traffic, no people.”
For a generation who is well-known for an interest in making a positive difference, Karly and Dawson said social distancing, cross-contamination, and conserving personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is the best way individuals can make that difference.
To avoid cross-contamination and not to waste PPE, the pair encourage individuals to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer. However, if individuals choose to wear gloves, they ask individuals to change gloves after going to the grocery store and changing them again before they start driving their car. Mostly, they ask for individuals to preserve the limited supply of PPE by staying home, limiting deliveries to protect delivery workers, and to support local health care workers.