Engineering Medicine’s (EnMed) inaugural class was just a few months into their training to become physicianeers when the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed their ability to volunteer and interact with patients. Now in their second year of training, EnMed students like Priya Arunachalam recently had the opportunity to help administer vaccines at Houston Methodist Hospital. She described the moment as an unforgettable first step toward going back to normal.
“The most rewarding part about this experience has been witnessing the joy of patients getting the vaccine,” Arunachalam said. “I left each shift having increased the number of people in the general population who were vaccinated, which couldn’t have been possible without Houston Methodist.”
Arunachalam learned how to administer vaccines during her family medicine rotation and received additional training from Houston Methodist on their electronic medical system to help administer vaccines. She says the experience helped reinforce her desire to be a physicianeer, who will one day help solve complex problems in health care through her dual training in medicine and engineering.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has advanced what we can do, but has left a lot of room for improvement and innovation,” she said. “What’s most exciting is that the pandemic has created a new standard for medicine that I think will actually make the field more receptive to what physicianeers have to offer.”
Arunachalam’s plans after education include expanding access to health care through the creation of a new type of hospital system. She says that the pandemic reinforced her desire to find workarounds to the ways care is currently delivered to increase access.
“It’s been well -noted that patients were avoiding coming into hospitals out of fear of contracting the virus. Delivery of care via telemedicine has adapted rapidly, but there are still gaps in the care we can provide with distance as a factor,” she said.
Arunachalam also serves as the operations director of Maroon Health, a group that planned to start a student-run clinic in Houston before the pandemic. Due to safety reasons, the students instead worked with faculty at Houston Methodist to provide outreach-based health care to patients during the pandemic. Arunachalam, with the other students of Maroon Health, are now working to expand their initiative to adapt post-COVID.