NCS alumnae who work in healthcare have responded to an unprecedented challenge, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these graduates are caring directly for patients battling the disease, particularly in New York and Washington, D.C., while others are focused on providing the public with accurate information about how to combat coronavirus.
Several of these medical alumnae live and work in New York, where nearly 200,000 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed, including several thousand a day beginning in late March.
Cristina Fernández ’01 MD MPH is a pediatrician and newborn hospitalist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. In early April, she noticed a growing number of pregnant women testing positive for COVID-19 after being admitted to the hospital in labor. “The last couple of weeks have been so stressful,” she said.
As Fernández counseled mothers worried for their newborns, she also faced the stress of watching medical workers catch COVID-19—the need to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) was an ever-present concern—and her own anxiety about transmitting coronavirus to family members.
“I urge our NCS extended community across the country to continue to follow the guidance of your local health officials, practice social distancing, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and pray for the safety of our healthcare workers,” Fernández said.
Her colleague at New York-Presbyterian, Virginia Bell ’09, is an intensive-care unit nurse, and she spoke in April to NCS students
in an anatomy class about supply-chain issues and trial medicines she has observed during the pandemic.
Linda DeCherrie ’91 MD is a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Health System in New York and the clinical director of Mount Sinai at Home. She and her team worked quickly to transition its home-based programs to video-conference in order to protect patients.
“Since the average age of our patients is 85, we have a very high-risk population, and we have, unfortunately, had many deaths,” DeCherrie explained. “We have luckily been able to provide 24/7 care to patients, especially those who did not want to go to the hospital if they were sick.”
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Michelle Harper '95 MD wrote about her experiences as an emergency medicine physician, treating suspected cases of the COVID-19. Read her compelling account of the stress of constant intubations and PPE shortages in Elemental.
Describing her frustration at having to reuse PPE, Harper wrote, "This is how we get infected. This is how we die. Those of us who survive will return each day to battle because we do not walk away from war until it’s done. But when this war is over, this is why many of us will leave."
In Chicago, Claire Dugan ’08 MD is an internal medicine resident and works in a local hospital’s COVID-19 unit. “My days are always different,” she said, but typically they involve diagnosing and treating different manifestations of the virus, responding to emergencies, helping researchers study new therapies, and figuring out how to safely send patients home after hospitalizations.
“This is a scary illness,” Dugan wrote, “but I feel hopeful and inspired about the future of healthcare and our country after the pandemic ends. I think people are learning more about public health and science, and there is more awareness of inequality in medicine and a need for change.”
And Patricia Turner ’86 MD, director of the Division of Member Services for the American College of Surgeons, says the majority of her work for the last month has been focused on COVID-19: “The American College of Surgeons is essentially the convener and provider of centralized expertise for surgeons everywhere, and of all specialties.” To help surgeons working during a global pandemic, she and her team have put together COVID-19 newsletters “that reflect accurate, peer-reviewed, and reliable information for surgeons nationwide.”
In the District, internist Lucy McBride ’91 MD studies the intersection between mental and physical health. During the pandemic, she has been working “to replace fear with facts” by delivering real-time, fact-based information to patients and the general public through daily newsletters, social media posts, and interviews with national media. In recent weeks, she has appeared on or written articles for the CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell, NPR, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post.
“My goal is to help as many people as possible by dispensing medical and mental health guidance to get us through the pandemic,” McBride said.
Catherine Crosland ‘88 MD, also an internist, has likewise been speaking to reporters about the virus. She was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition about her work as medical director of homeless outreach services at Unity Health Care in the District, when she discussed how she has supported vulnerable homeless populations during the pandemic.
Sarah Moore ’85 MA is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Northern Virginia. She has opened more spots for pro-bono clients and has made herself available to support healthcare professionals via telehealth sessions.
And Brita Lundberg ‘80 MD has joined other physicians in petitioning state health officials for more PPE for healthcare workers, expanded testing, and more awareness of racial disparities associated with COVID-19. She has been sharing strategies that helped other governments succeed in combatting COVID-19 and ways to address public anxiety alongside the pandemic.
At NCS, we are grateful for the ways in which our community—alumnae, faculty/staff, students, and friends—has risen to the challenge of this global pandemic. We know there are many more stories of healthcare heroes among us.