MSUToday
Published: July 13, 2020

Spartan undergrads serve as essential workers

Contact(s): Kamryn Romano University Communications romanok2@msu.edu, Beth Brauer University Communications Beth.Brauer-Delaney@cabs.msu.edu

To be an essential worker during a global pandemic certainly can be nerve wracking. Even more challenging than working under new circumstances is juggling regular responsibilities with the fear of potentially contracting the disease and spreading it to others.

When many of us were homebound during statewide quarantines, there were Spartan students on the front lines, working in a variety of roles. From first responders to medical support staff to fast food employees, Spartans risked their own well being to serve their communities and to gain experience in their fields of study.

After only working there a few months, Bella Ihrig, senior in the College of Natural Science worked at Therapeutic Recreation, an East Lansing neuro-rehab facility.

“On a given day, I’d have online classes in the morning or teach an online recitation as an undergraduate learning assistant. Then, I’d get to work before my sessions started at 1 p.m. to catch up on emails or documentation,” said Ihrig.

Ihrig worked nearly every day, including weekends, during quarantine. She explained that during “sleeper shifts,” where she had to be on the premises and on call from 11 p.m.-7 a.m., that no two nights were the same.

“Some nights I got paid to sleep, but other nights, I stayed up and did bed changes all night before class or monitored a new patient who was acclimating to their injuries and was a risk to themselves,” said Ihrig. “One night, I was woken up at 3 a.m. to accompany a patient as an advocate to the emergency room.”

Experiences like these reminded Ihrig of her responsibility as a caretaker during such a daunting time in the world. As a physiology major with a double minor, Ihrig is used to a busy schedule, but she felt a new level of exhaustion during the the early days of quarantine.

“It’s not a job you can show up half way for,” she said.

Colin Woods, who is a sophomore in the College of Nursing and Department of Military Science and also an ROTC cadet, has pursued service in multiple fields. Showing up mentally, physically and emotionally prepared was also on Woods’s agenda.

Working 12-24 hour shifts as an EMT in Detroit, Woods said the fast-pace work made him feel accomplished for helping his city in a time of need, but also gave him perspective on the magnitude of the pandemic.

“It gave me a more in-depth look at the struggles that people throughout the world were going through dealing with this terrible illness,” said Woods. “It made me realize that this virus is a real threat.”

Woods championed time management through balancing 70+ hour work weeks, 17 credits in school and ROTC for the Air Force.

“There were many times I was sitting in the truck studying for classes in between calls,” said Woods.

Woods wasn’t the only one who was utilizing down time during a stressful job. Taylor Babbie, graduated senior from the College of Education, said she needed to use her short break times as a nursing assistant to take off all of her personal protective equipment so she could breathe.

Shortly after the pandemic started, Babbie’s floor at Troy Beaumont hospital turned into a COVID-19 floor. Switching gears from working in an orthopedics unit to treating a pandemic wasn’t easy, Babbie explained.

She has worked as a CNA there for over a year, and said she never expected her last summer before applying to physician assistant programs would put her to the test of serving in the health care field during a global pandemic.

“I remember coming home from a workday and just being completely physically and emotionally drained,” said Babbie. “We had many people that passed on my floor during the pandemic; it was truly heartbreaking. These patients were in the hospital alone, which made me realize how lucky I was that I got to go home to see my family every day.”

Babbie still had fears of bringing home the virus to her loved ones. She explained that her grandma had just begun chemotherapy, and she was afraid to pass anything along to her. The sense of pride in working at a hospital during a pandemic was matched with a sense of fear and uncertainty.

“Personally, working in this environment has made me a stronger person with new perspectives and, professionally, I feel that I can conquer any challenge my career throws at me after starting my path to be a PA during COVID-19,” said Babbie.

Class of 2020 senior Shelby Travis, who also works at Beaumont, expressed the same sense of pride and sense of community.

Travis said she was nervous to work under such uncertain conditions, but her passion to pursue medical school and dedication to serving her community overpowered these fears. She thought about it as the same nursing duties, just with some extra personal protective equipment.

“Being an essential worker during a pandemic has made me grateful for my health community that I belong to,” said Travis. “This has only furthered my desire to pursue medicine.”