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A Frontline Medical Student and His Experience with COVID-19

By: Ahmad Galuta

Doctor Louai Naddaf, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself including your background and upbringing?

"I moved to Canada from the Middle East when I was young and started learning English and everything about my new environment. Then during my undergrad at the University of Ottawa, I studied health science. I always had a passion for medicine and doing something related to health. I always loved anatomy and physiology. So I started looking at options on how to get into medical school. I applied to Canadian medical schools as well as Caribbean medical schools. I did some research, applied, and got accepted for a school in the Caribbean. I had the opportunity to do my clinical rotations in the States and Canada. I soon realized I was interested in many fields including family care, internal medicine, and emergency medicine. I opted for family medicine to return to work in Canada. Now I’m in my second year of family medicine in New York and I’m loving it!"

What motivated you to pursue medicine? And what stage are you at right now in your journey?

"Back when I was a doing schooling in Syria, I was learning about anatomy and I fell in love with the heart (no pun intended). And then when I went to Canada, I loved the sciences. So then when I started high school, I was volunteering a little bit more, getting my foot in the door, seeing how hospitals are, doing some recent scientific research. I really enjoyed it. In one experience, I traveled back to Syria and helped out in refugee camps there. The whole aspect of being there for someone when they're most vulnerable, that’s what kept me driven. And that experience greatly motivated me to pursue medicine."

You're currently in New York right now, the worst-hit place in the world by the pandemic. Can you speak about what it's like to be on the front lines and away from home? what keeps you going?

"Initially, it was pretty stressful. I was doing my ICU rotation when everything was hitting New York City. And at that time, we were still figuring out what to do with COVID patients. The thing is, it was really stressful because initially there wasn't that much personal protective equipment (PPE). They were giving us our masks and asking us to reuse them. They were giving us Tupperware with it and said “yeah, use it for the rest of the week. Next week, you'll get another one.”There was so limited PPE and I have a beard. I can't even wear the 95 masks which were scarce, I have to wear the capper, which looks like an astronaut helmet. Initially, they just wanted the attending doctor to go inside the rooms with the patient and see them face to face. Shortly after, they realized that the attending doctors can't handle that, because there were just a lot of patients coming in and they were getting called in the middle night. Attending doctors usually aren't here in the hospital in the middle of the night. So they changed it up a little bit. Then, they had everyone in the room (attending and resident doctors). It was stressful because we were getting tested for COVID, and the test itself is not pleasurable. The contact that we had with COVID patients, that was scary, because no one really knew what was going on. And we were

throwing everything at these COVID patients. They could either get better, or worse. We don't know. One time, we had a question about a COVID patient. We were trying to figure out what kind of heparin to start on this patient. We asked the intensivist and she was like “just choose a number wisely. No one knows what's going to work on a specific patient. So choose and pray for the best. It was stressful, but I think having a lot of social support near you is good. My family was far, but they helped. Gave me a little boost."

Can you tell us a little bit about your own experiences? What's been the biggest challenge for you as a student?

"I had the opportunity to meet many different people and many different teachers. My undergrad teacher is much different than my medical school teachers, which were also much different than my clerkship attendings. Every single person is different. So the hardest thing for me was being able to adapt from one person’s teaching to another. I'll give you my most recent example. When I was doing my clerkship, every week, we would get different attending doctors. And every single doctor wants things done differently. I needed to figure out what each doctor wanted, and it was difficult to know what to expect. So I had to make sure that I was ready for everything. My attending told me two or three weeks ago, that the practice of medicine is like an art. It's how you do things that help people. It's not just what you give them."

According to you, what’s the importance of education and school?

"Education is when you learn, whether you go to school or you don't. You can even get your education online. That's how most people are getting it now nowadays. Whereas schooling helps you mature. The school helps you keep a good social circle, where you mature, you have your social support that's different from your family or friends. So they're both different. In education, you learn stuff. Whereas in school you learn maturity and social interaction, but they're both kinds of connections."

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a student today?

"Being a student is someone willing to learn and get an education. Now, education doesn't necessarily need to be something that you've come to class for. You can get this education in many different ways now. Also, someone that is driven by goals, and does whatever it takes to achieve that end goal. That’s what I think a student is like today."

Do you have any last words of advice or inspiration for young learning minds?

"Shoot your shot! Whatever it is that you want to do for yourself. Don't be afraid. Take that first step. take that leap. Don't be afraid. If you ever need help or some guidance, always ask. That's the biggest thing. Don't be afraid to ask as most people are there for you and would love to be. Search for mentorship."

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