We’ll never forget your faces in the windows.
That’s how we – students at The University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Fort Worth – interacted with you at HSC’s COVID-19 drive-through test sites. We stood at your car window, guiding you through the process or in full protective gear doing a nasal swab.
Some of you were nervous or confused. Others calm. Some of you looked sick. Others smiled and held up handmade signs thanking us. All of you trusted us take care of you.
This unique opportunity to serve our community arrived abruptly. COVID-19 forced our classes online and halted our clinical training rotations. HSC students and faculty quickly pivoted to staff phone banks, perform contact tracing, collect and donate protective gear to providers on the front lines and work with HSC faculty and staff to open and operate two COVID-19 test sites.
The first test site opened in the Medical District to serve first responders, then expanded to health professionals, transit worker and, eventually, the public. We opened a second site in southeast Fort Worth to increase access for underserved populations. In all, we put in more than 5,600 volunteer hours and helped test about 2,900 people
Creating a test site from scratch was a master lesson in logistics and problem solving. What was the best traffic flow? How could we communicate clearly and safely to people in cars? What supplies did we need? At the end of every day, we brainstormed how to improve the process for you.
Our experience prepared us to be your future health care providers like no classroom experience could. This was real. We were an interprofessional team of providers – student physicians, physician assistants, nurses and pharmacists – making decisions and working together. This kind of teamwork is the future model for high-quality healthcare delivery.
We divided our test site into three specifically marked zones: cold, warm and hot. A student in the cold zone delivered a test kit to a student in the warm zone, who took it to the hot zone, where a student or faculty member performed the nasal swab. A student safety officer in a green vest monitored each step to prevent cross contamination.
Through this experience, many of us earned Pandemic Emergency Response and COVID-19 Testing microcredentials, verifying the competencies we have developed and validating our skills for future pandemic responses.
But our most valuable experience came from you. We saw the importance of listening, showing empathy through our words and body language, and the power of clear communication between provider and patient. We felt a profound responsibility to you.
Soon, we will graduate and begin health care careers, many of us here in North Texas. The lessons from COVID-19 will make us infinitely better health care providers in the clinics, hospitals, or pharmacies where we will serve you and your families.
Amanda Plein is a student in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Delissa Ramirez is a student in the UNT System College of Pharmacy. Madi Garrett is a student in the Physician Assistant Program.