You can hear it in Tyler Gloe’s voice, which sounds a bit worn: Practicing in intensive care is intense, thoroughly absorbing and never boring, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s like nothing else. It’s a whirlwind,” says the fourth-year DMU osteopathic medicine student in describing his rotation in the intensive care unit at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, WI. “There are long days and it can be emotionally draining at times, but you see a great diversity of patients and conditions.”
What those patients have in common is they all require the highest level of care. “It’s almost one-to-one patient/staff support. They’re the kind of patients you can’t walk away from,” he says.
Their care also requires a team approach. “Each member of the ICU team is a specialist. They know so much about saving patients’ lives – the pharmacists, nurses, social workers, doctors,” he says. “There may be 15 to 20 people gathered around when we do rounds. I’m learning so much, especially about ventilator teams.”
Tyler says approximately two-thirds of the patients in the ICU during his rotation were infected with the coronavirus – a troubling situation given how sick patients have to be to be admitted to the unit.
“When they get to this stage, often there’s not a lot we can do. You can feel helpless,” he says. “But one of the most rewarding aspects of being in the ICU is getting to know the patients’ families and getting to talk about who the patient is as a person. That’s been the best part of it for me, talking with people and hearing their stories.”
That’s an important part of good patient care, he says. “It’s a cliched thing to say, but I want to treat the patient as I would family. What would Dad want? My brother? Me? I think everyone deserves that level of care,” he notes. “When your loved one is in the hospital, you want to know everything that’s going on.”
Tyler’s other four-week rotations have included infectious disease management and palliative care as well as an internal medicine inpatient subinternship, which have given him exposure to different subspecialties as well as enhanced skills.
“The biggest takeaway for me is having confidence in what I know. I’ve had good training. I might not have all the answers, but I always have resources at my fingertips,” he says. “As a first- and second-year medical student, you can’t imagine being a resident or doctor, but rotations give you a sense of that. There are a lot of sacrifices involved” – he spent one break between rotations at the Boundary Waters, a wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota – “but we signed up for this, and it’s really rewarding.”