KMA is sharing the first-person accounts of physicians from across the state as they prepare for and battle the COVID-19 pandemic. These stories will also be published at kyma.org/covid19. If you are interested in submitting an account, please email Emily Schott, email@example.com.
KMA spoke to Toni Ganzel, M.D., Dean, University of Louisville School of Medicine
As with all practices, people and industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a disruption like we’d never imagined. Our Provost recently termed this the “semester with an asterisk,” as it has truly impacted all of our missions. However, I’ve been incredibly encouraged and inspired by our students and faculty and how they have stepped up to rise to the challenge.
School of Medicine:
Our students are particularly resilient. They very quickly pivoted to remote learning. We use a lot of technology already in the form of small groups and clinical simulation labs, but this took us from face-to-face to fully remote in about three days. Things were more complicated for our third- and fourth-year students. National guidelines and accrediting bodies recommended pulling students from the clinical environment in order to reduce the risk of exposure and preserve PPE for physicians and other frontline staff. Our educational leaders and faculty had to be creative and innovative to allow our M4s to finish their requirements virtually in order to graduate on time.
Our M3s were in the midst of required clinical clerkships, which instead went to virtual learning modules. At the time, we didn’t know how long they would be out of the clinical environment. As healthcare has begun to fully reopen, we plan to reintroduce the M4s back to clinical environment June 1 and our M3s will start clinical rotations June 29.
Not only has our didactic learning and curriculum had to be retooled, but fun planned activities like Match Day and graduation had to be re-thought. We conducted a virtual Match Day as well as a virtual graduation ceremony, and while we were sorry not to be able to celebrate with them face to face, we were glad to at least celebrate with them virtually. Our students are being so strong and trying to stay positive, but we have to acknowledge that those graduating are missing out on important milestones, and that is sad. They won’t get to be together again before they disperse for residencies. I’m proud of the program directors and other school personnel and how they have been so supportive of these students. It’s a challenging time, but crises bring out true character and increased compassion and empathy for one another.
Our research arm has also been impacted greatly because of social distancing and the need to work remotely. We’ve been following guidance from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others to reduce exposure and preserve PPE.
Many of our researchers have expanded their focus to COVID-19 research. There’s nothing like a grand challenge to bring out the talent and creativity in people, and that’s certainly been evident here. We’ve focused on testing and collaborating across our departments to find possible solutions to the pandemic challenges, including working with the Speed School of Engineering to produce face shields and nasal swabs using a 3D printer.
We’re also working with the Mayor and Governor’s offices and other healthcare systems to expand testing for healthcare workers. And with plans to be back on campus in the fall, we must expand testing and contact tracing across the board.
Our hospitals have obviously been profoundly impacted by COVID. We appreciate the aggressiveness of Gov. Beshear in stepping up early and flattening the curve in Kentucky. When they eliminated elective surgery and office visits, it obviously had a huge impact on our daily work and finances, but we understood the reasoning. Our staff worked quickly to cancel those appointments and ramp up telehealth. We really went from a small footprint in telehealth to conducting more than 1,000 visits per day. Moving forward, I think telehealth will really enhance our connection with patients and eliminate the disruption they experience when coming in for an office visit. We’re now scheduling face-to-face appointments again and some surgical cases, but will still encourage telehealth where possible for office visits.
Our hospitals have been fortunate with bed capacity and our supply of PPE so far. One of our research areas also figured out how to sterilize N95 masks. They now are able to do hundreds of masks per day, which is amazing.
UofL provides a lot of community engagement, including healthcare workforce pipeline programs that have now been moved virtually. Our popular Summer Health Professions Education Program, which is a national program that attracts underrepresented students from across the country who are interested in a health professions career, will be held virtually.
Regarding health equity, epidemiologic studies tell us these types of viruses impact vulnerable populations more, so we are very mindful of that and are working on health equity efforts to reach out into those communities.
As leaders, we must not only be focused on planning and dealing with now, but must also keep in mind the longer term, and bridging the gap between uncertainty and our new reality. We know things are going to be different as we move forward. UofL is committed to staying connected to our mission and remembering that what we do matters now, next and beyond.
I’m so proud of the University of Louisville and how our entire organization has responded to this crisis with compassion, creativity and courage. I’m grateful to be a part of an institution that is so dedicated to sustaining its mission and making a difference in our community and our commonwealth.