Helping Medical Residents Maneuver Pandemic Challenges

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UTRGV School of Medicine residents at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. (Courtesy Photo)

Mega Doctor NEWS

By Amanda A. Taylor 

Rio Grande Valley, Texas – One of the most valuable experiences in a medical student’s education is the time spent in crucial residency hours. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, UTRGV School of Medicine students had to work on the front lines in circumstances most residents could never dream of. 

Dr. Timothy Heath, professor of internal medicine at the UTRGV School of Medicine and Program Director of Internal Medicine at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Dr. Timothy Heath, professor of internal medicine at the UTRGV School of Medicine and program director of internal medicine at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, has committed his time to helping UTRGV SOM residents assist with COVID-19 patients. 

“My role is primarily administering the residents and, probably more importantly, I work with them in the clinics,” Heath said. “Here at DHR, our residents as of July 1 were participating in SIDU (Serious Infection Disease Units) units with people who had COVID-19, so the residents were experiencing patients that were severely ill who required high volumes of oxygen. And when that was ineffective and they were having trouble breathing, then they required mechanical ventilation.”

“Medical residents typically are under a great deal of pressure to begin with, so imagine during a global pandemic,” he said.

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Heath said that, especially for first-year residents, stress of this sort can be overwhelming and exhausting, especially when patients were succumbing to the virus in such high volumes. 

“On the front lines, people were dying,” Heath said. “There were some people they got in that were on relatively low-flow oxygen or they required ventilation and then they got better. So, there were success stories too. But it was, as you might imagine and especially for the residents, an extremely stressful situation.”

Heath’s role is to help the residents working within these clinics with processing the multitude of events happening around them at lightning speed. While residents also participated in non-COVID-19 settings, Heath had to keep constant track of which residents were working in which clinics at what time, in order to help protect the residents at all times.

This included paying close attention to the shift work residents must fulfill as part of their medical service. As each resident is fully dressed in personal protection equipment (PPE), prevention of cross-contamination is key for all medical teams and a standard practice within any clinical setting.

“The residents have been putting forth valiant efforts,” he said. “I’m terribly proud of our residents. They really stepped up. The seniors helped with the interns, and the interns just stepped up to the plate and have done a phenomenal job.”

Heath said watching his residents grow into physicians is one of the best parts of his job, and whether they worked with COVID-19 patients or assisted in regular clinical settings, they all have provided the most professional medical service possible. 

“It just fills your heart with pride to watch the next generation of physicians, and you know they’ve got it, that they’re going to maintain our profession,” he said. “Our profession is in good hands in terms of the quality and character of the physicians that we’re training at UTRGV, and that is absolutely motivating.”

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