Idaho’s future doctors train for resilience in the face of pandemic

Kiefer Starks distinctly remembers the smell of his N95 mask and the constant beeping from his recent rotation in the emergency room at West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell.

“The monitors always turn off because the oxygen is always low and there is always chaos because the EMS team always comes in with three or four patients and we don’t have beds for them,” Starks said. .

Starks is a 27-year-old fourth-year medical student at Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, or ICOM.

As part of his clinical rotations, he recently spent a month in the West Valley emergency room just as the delta variant was spreading through Canyon County and the rest of Idaho.

Starks said patients reacted in all kinds of ways when told they had COVID.

“We have had patients who refused to believe COVID is real, and then we have had patients who requested the vaccine when it was already time to be intubated,” he said.

Some family members went to get the vaccine themselves, but others asked doctors to treat loved ones with unproven medicine.

Constant questioning strikes him.

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Kiefer Starks, a 27-year-old medical student, said he already felt like he was exhausted after seeing waves of COVID-19 patients during his rotations. Medical schools are trying to teach students resilience skills so that they can cope with tough days at work.

“I joke about it a lot,” he said. “I’m like ‘Dude, I haven’t even got residency yet and I’m already exhausted.'”

As the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated how overwhelming medical schools can be for future doctors, professors have said they try to prepare students to face difficult situations every day.

ICOM uses actors so that students can practice delivering bad news or defusing tense situations with a patient.

“There was very little communication training when I was in medical school,” said Dr. Nicole Moses, laughing when asked how she was trained.

Moses now teaches these skills at ICOM.

She said she needed to make these tools her own by watching other doctors take care of patients instead of practicing in the classroom.

“It’s really light years away from education. “

Dr Dustin Worth had a similar experience when he was a medical student.

“Historically, it’s like we’ve just beaten their empathy,” Worth said.

He is the clinical medicine coordinator of the WWAMI program at the University of Idaho. The program gives medical students their first two years of study locally at Northwestern schools before they transfer to the University of Washington.

Similar to ICOM, Worth said WWAMI did not specifically train students in managing the pressure of crisis care standards, but helping a student prepare before telling a patient they are. with a terminal illness helps them to be more resilient.

“It can be as emotionally stimulating and difficult for a young doctor as watching a patient die,” he said.

Back at ICOM, Jake Price works as a school counselor.

Price said he heard the same types of student problems during the pandemic as before – anxiety, feeling overwhelmed – they’re just more common now.

Price tries to get students to check in regularly.

“How are you mentally, emotionally and socially? How is your body How do you eat well? Do you sleep well? Do you do things that remind you of who you are?

Ignoring your own emotions, he said, is a recipe for burnout – and can lead to worse patient health outcomes down the road.

“If they don’t constantly take care of themselves, it’s slowly eroding that moral bond they have,” Price said.

Dr Moses agrees. She said she was constantly shunned by other doctors for focusing so much on teaching self-care skills that were not always a priority in the industry.

Nicole Moses teaches communication skills to future physicians at Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Nicole Moses teaches communication skills to future physicians at Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine.

This includes recognizing when a team member may be in trouble.

“I think we’re really starting to see that we have to listen to each other so that we can protect each other from the negative effects of the profession in general,” Moses said.

Although he feels exhausted from his time in the emergency room this summer, Starks said the experience didn’t stop him from becoming a doctor.

This, however, made him rethink his plans after his residency.

“Idaho has done such a bad job of handling this whole pandemic,” Starks said.

As of January 2020, Idaho ranks 17the in the nation for cases per capita and 33rd for per capita deaths, According to the CDC.

The Twin Falls native believed he would eventually return to work in Idaho, which ranks among the bottom of any state in terms of doctors per capita.

Starks said it’s always a possibility, but for now he’s looking elsewhere.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

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