Sophomore Noelle Seekamp-Hicks, dressed as the Grinch, poses (third from left) with her coworkers on Halloween in Portland, Ore. She gained healthcare experience working at a COVID-19 testing site in her community during a public health crisis. Photo courtesy of Noelle Seekamp-Hicks
Imagine being the first person to tell somebody they have COVID-19. Emotions of shock, worry and uncertainty rush through the patient’s brain, and you are the only one there to comfort the sick patient as they think through their family members and friends they have recently been in contact with. For sophomore Sports Medicine major Noelle Seekamp-Hicks, this has been a daily occurrence since August.
“It’s hard when you find out somebody, or yourself, have come in contact with COVID-19 — you immediately think about all the people you have been around, and you think about how you would feel if they were infected with it,” Seekamp-Hicks said. ”It’s really strengthened my empathy and my compassion.”
Several Pepperdine students have dedicated time out of their year to pursue their dreams of working in the healthcare field, even if it wasn’t under the circumstances they expected. Whether it is giving COVID-19 vaccinations, performing COVID-19 tests or being the first ones patients call when they are in a dire situation, Pepperdine students are stepping up to serve their communities and gaining firsthand experience of what it’s like to work during a public health crisis.
Working on the Frontlines
From a young age, Seekamp-Hicks knew she wanted to serve in the healthcare industry. Seekamp-Hick’s mom is a pharmacist and her dad is a psychologist, so she said she knew from a young age that she wanted to follow in their footsteps.
“I’ve always admired my mom for the work that she does in helping people and educating them on the medications they are taking,” Seekamp-Hicks said.
Seekamp-Hicks started working at a COVID-19 testing site in August in Portland, Ore. The testing site saw 200 patients per day and Seekamp-Hicks did everything from performing the actual tests, to watching how the tests got processed, to delivering the results to the patients, she said.
“We would talk to them, help them through their swabbing process and then process the samples right there,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “It was really cool getting to see how the actual technology worked of processing the COVID-19 samples.”
During the winter months, the testing site was split into four satellite locations, each site processing 50 patients per day. Seekamp-Hicks said she got the opportunity to lead one of the sites and educate the workers on the process of COVID-19 testing.
“I actually got the job of going around to all the different stores and teaching everyone how to do everything,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “I work on getting the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians on board, making sure they know how to do the samples, how to process them and what people work they need to do.”
Seekamp-Hick’s expertise even reached Hawai’i, where she said a new COVID-19 testing site called her to learn the practices and protocols her site did to keep the patients and workers safe.
“I called them a couple times and just guided them through our best practices and helped them problem-solve,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “The moments like that are super rewarding.”
Now that the spring semester has started, Seekamp-Hicks continues to run one of the testing sites in her neighborhood. She also recently became certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board to be a Certified Pharmacy Technician.
“Since I just got my certification, I’m going to be able to administer the COVID-19 vaccines, so I’ve been doing training for that,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “Hopefully by March I’ll be able to start vaccinating people.”
Seekamp-Hicks said working in the healthcare industry is rewarding and she learned many skills that are applicable to her daily life.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot in my ability to adapt to different situations and to be really flexible with the way that I do things,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “If I’m not flexible and I’m not willing to adapt to those changes I could be susceptible to getting ill or coming in contact with things that I’m not supposed to.”
But working in the healthcare industry, especially during a global pandemic, doesn’t come without challenges, Seekamp-Hicks said.
“Sometimes you’d have to let [patients] know that they were infected with coronavirus and it was really hard to see people go through that,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “To be able to give them comfort in that moment — it’s scary.”
Seekamp-Hicks said that because of the novelty of the virus, protocols change weekly and she remains diligent about checking the current practices. She also continues to teach the people around her the latest virus information.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what is going on with COVID-19, but I try to be as open and honest with people as I can with the information I am giving,” Seekamp-Hicks said. “It has been a struggle, mainly because everyone has questions, and nobody has answers right now.”
On the Frontlines as EMTs
Not only have students worked in the healthcare industry directly with COVID-19 patients, but also on the frontlines as EMTs. Sophomore Biology major Abigail Martinez started working as an EMT over a year and a half ago, and senior Chemistry major Abigail Butler is working on her certification to become an EMT.
While the standard job description of an EMT remains the same, Martinez said she and her co-workers had to change their protocols due to COVID-19.
“Treating the patients has stayed the same, but the different ways we handle calls and wear protective equipment now has definitely changed,” Martinez said. “You didn’t really see a lot of people wearing masks before.”
With more COVID-19 cases, there became a greater need for EMTs to respond to calls, and Martinez said in the peak phases of COVID-19, the job got even busier. Martinez said she not only worried about treating patients but also keeping herself protected from the virus.
“It’s been stressful being exposed to COVID-19 so much,” Martinez said. “It’s hard as first responders because we don’t always know what we are walking into. We don’t want to waste our protective equipment but also we need to wear it — it’s a weird balance.”
Martinez said she has grown from the experience of working as an EMT during the pandemic, and that it helped her with her confidence and decision-making skills.
The pandemic changed Butler’s plans, as she planned to graduate from Pepperdine and go straight to medical school, but now she is taking an EMT training course and plans to work as an EMT during a gap year after graduation.
“We are doing all this training for different scenarios, so I’m excited to just go out there and actually work with people,” Butler said. “In high school, I was a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home, so I’m excited to see how being an EMT will be different from that.”
Butler anticipates being an EMT will come with challenges, but said she is excited to start helping people and serving her community.
“Sometimes that [the emergency] is the hardest part of their life and you get to help them through that,” Butler said. “It’s rewarding but can also be hard.”
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