Since April, medical students from Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) have volunteered over 900 hours with the Yakima Health District (YHD) on COVID-19 related efforts. From working at needle exchange sites to offloading personal protective equipment (PPE) for local medical workers, PNWU student doctors have consistently committed to doing all they can to improve the health and wellness of the Yakima community.
To get a better sense of what inspires these students to give back so consistently, we spoke with a pair who recently volunteered to work at a local COVID-19 mobile testing site.
According to representatives from the YHD, over 900 hours of volunteering efforts from PNWU medical students have proven invaluable in assuring that local medical staff have the ability to focus on the urgent work that accompanies an ongoing pandemic.
“PNWU students and staff have been absolutely wonderful,” said Mary Lou Shean, Yakima County Emergency Operations Center's Public Health Liaison. “Their enthusiasm and flexibility have been exemplary. They are truly invested in the community that they find themselves in.”
“I am very fortunate to be in good health during this time,” explained second-year PNWU medical student Danzhu Zhao, who recently volunteered to work at a local COVID-19 mobile testing site. “I know that is not the case for so many people around the world, especially in Yakima County, and I wanted to help my community in any way I could.” In her role at the testing site, Zhao helped to screen patients, discussing their symptoms and providing information and resources for those who were concerned for their health.
“It was eye-opening to see how many people were coming in with symptoms and were fearful for themselves and their loved ones,” Zhao explained. “Being able to provide comfort and the testing that they needed was incredibly rewarding.”
Like Zhao, third-year medical student Carrie Tackett also jumped on the opportunity to give back to the community. With board studying finally behind her, she too volunteered to help at a mobile testing site. “I decided to volunteer because I feel I have been given a lot throughout my education, and just life in general,” said Tackett. “I think it is important to give some of that back when you can.”
Working in the blistering heat of the Yakima Valley sun, Tackett was moved by the consistently grateful reactions of the patients she met. “People kept thanking me profusely for what we were doing, but all I could think was: ‘I’m not working as hard as the testers.’ I was so impressed by the workers around me, who were all wearing head-to-toe PPE,” she said. “It was a great morning, and very well put together and smooth operation.”
“I hope that this volunteer work, and the work of those who are doing so much more than myself, will really get the community of Yakima to understand how serious COVID is,” said Tackett, reflecting on the experience. “I think we are all missing the social aspect of our lives, and if everyone does a little to protect themselves and those around them — like washing your hands, wearing a mask and social distancing — we can continue to open up the community and move forward.”
“I hope to continue helping Yakima become healthy and safe again,” said Zhao. “As a medical student who has gained knowledge and experience from learning and serving in this community, I just wanted to give back. There is no greater time than this to serve, love, and have compassion for those around us.”