Virtual classroom to operating room: Syracuse University grad shares experience working in hospital during COVID-19

From the WRBL Internship Assignment Desk

BOSTON, Mass. (WRBL) – A year ago Julia Whitney pictured herself attending graduate school to become a physician assistant. Instead, she now spends her days dressed in PPE in a
hospital operating room.

When Whitney graduated from Syracuse University in May 2020, she planned to take a couple
classes over the summer and then begin PA school in the fall.

“The reality of so much schooling online pushed me to just get started working right away,”
Whitney said. “I wasn’t sure that was the route I wanted to take anyway in the first place.”

She instead spent the summer applying to jobs and eventually came across a posting by Stryker,
a medical technology company. So Whitney made the move from her childhood home in Western Massachusetts to Boston where she began as an OnSite Specialist for non-invasive
surgeries at Tufts Medical Center.

In the operating room, she’s responsible for troubleshooting and quality control of the tools Stryker provides for laparoscopic, endoscopic and arthroscopic surgical cases, and she also helps
make sure each case is set up correctly.

She describes her job as a limbo between scrub tech, charge nurse and core tech.

“My favorite part is how much I get to see and learn on a daily basis sitting in on these cases and
listening to the surgeons teach their residents,” Whitney said.

Her new job has its challenges, especially with COVID-19, but she added she’s never worked in
an OR without COVID restrictions.

“In the OR they would only wear masks in cases that were open or high risk and as soon as the
patient was closed, they would all rip their masks off, but that obviously can’t happen,” Whitney
said about what she’s heard it was like before. “Morale can be tough.”

She’s also had to adjust to living in a new city and trying to balance making friends, while also
being conscious of the fact that she’s working in a hospital.

“Even having friends in the area, I wasn’t comfortable to hang out with them considering how
often I was getting exposed to COVID,” Whitney said. “My biggest fear starting my job and
moving to a new city was putting others at risk, even before my own risk.”

However, she does feel like there are lots of safety precautions in place at work. For instance, all
the proper personal protective equipment is given to her, and since she’s working with cases of
elective surgery, she’s only required to go into the OR when the patient tested negative prior to
the surgery.

“The hardest thing was getting used to wearing a N95 for long shifts,” Whitney said. “I can’t
imagine what it’s been like for nurses that have been doing this since March last year.”

She’s also just recently received her second vaccine dose.

“It makes the anxiety and fear of putting others at risk or yourself at risk – it makes it feel like
less of a life or death situation,” Whitney said.

Outside of the hospital, she works at Orange Theory Fitness for fun on the weekends, a hobby
she began to enjoy while at Syracuse.

“I started making friends at the gym which made the city feel a little bit smaller,” Whitney said.
“Between working out and the connections I’ve made at the hospital and at the gym, the city
feels like home already.”

Even though Whitney finds it difficult to imagine a post-COVID world and make definite plans
right now, her goal is to begin a MBA program in the fall and eventually go into corporate leadership at Stryker.

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