COVID-19 pandemic forces quick switch for 1st year healthcare workers at Swedish Covenant

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The COVID-19 pandemic meant some first year healthcare workers had to make a specialty switch in a hurry.

Dr. Benjamin Johnson began his medical career at Swedish Covenant Hospital as an attending general surgeon on March 1, just days before the coronavirus hit. He immediately switched gears and volunteered to work in the ICU.

"I had training in that field and felt my risk was not as high for physicians qualified for that," he said.

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But there wasn't any medical school training that prepared Johnson for treating COVID patients.

"It was the first time, as a doctor, I knew people were not going to make it and that was really tough, unable to have a good plan, especially talking to families," said Johnson.

It was baptism by fire for Grace Kealy as well. The 23-year-old began her nursing career as an orthopedic unit nurse a few months before COVID, but by the end of the year she was working on COVID floors.

"Seeing these patients and how sick they were, without family or friends, that was really tough to see right out of school. That was shocking," Kealy said.

It was shocking for Meryl Cook as well. A newly graduated labor and delivery nurse, she saw new moms on ventilators and spouses die from COVID-19 the same week their children were born.

While Cook said it was terrifying being a new nurse during a pandemic, COVID-19 forced even the most experienced to learn.

"Everybody was basically a new nurse when COVID started because we were learning new things," she said.

Cook said the experience has given her a huge confidence boost as a nurse, and Kealy said the pandemic has definitely changed her. She plans to switch from orthopedics to critical care.

"I think it will definitely change how my career progresses," Kealy said. "It has given me a new outlook on life, a new outlook on working with patients."

While all three have learned a lot about medicine and themselves during the last few months, they know, despite the arrival of a vaccine, the pandemic is far from over. Once again, their hospital is filling up with COVID-19 patients.
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