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Tuskegee alumni on front lines of COVID-19 pandemic

June 01, 2020

Contact:  Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

From airports to conferences, it’s pretty common for Tuskegee University alumni to cross paths in their personal and professional lives. That’s becoming less frequent, unfortunately, as the need for social distancing has become necessary amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

Brittney Dabney of Tuskegee University’s Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing recently sat down — virtually speaking — with several alumni to get their perspectives on the healthcare situation, as well as how their Tuskegee training is serving them during this health crisis.

Andrea McLin

Andrea McLin '88

Andrea McLin, a nurse for Detroit Medical Center admits that the last few weeks have been difficult, with rising COVID-19 cases and deaths. The nursing alumna serves on the front lines as a medical professional and encounters patients with the virus daily — many of whom are elderly and can’t fully understand their health predicament.

McLin says that COVID-19 has transformed the relationship between patients and healthcare experts. Because of the switch, experts are looking for new ways to provide access during both current and future pandemics. A recently employed model of addressing patient healthcare —known as telehealth services — has allowed medical experts to serve their patients while staying in-line with social distancing guidelines. Telehealth, according to McLin, is about educating her patients while still ensuring their access to physicians.

“Most of my teaching is done with family who I speak with over the phone. I inform them that hand-washing and keeping social distance is a must,” she explained. “I encourage them to use masks and gloves when out in public, and also take vitamin C and zinc to help aid their immune systems in healing.”

The nurse of 33 years says the pandemic has sharpened many of the skills she acquired while a student at Tuskegee – including perseverance and patience – along with a renewed outlook on her faith.

“These challenging times have given me more determination to remain in my profession and continue to make a difference,” she said. “By the grace of God, I look forward to being part of the many people who can say I actively worked with people who had the virus and survived.”

Joan Coker

Dr. Joan Coker '86

Each day, Dr. Joan F. Coker, a board-certified otolaryngologist, tends to patients with chronic coughs, sinus infections, ear pains, loss of smell, and change in taste —just to name a few of the prevailing coronavirus symptoms. For Coker, this pandemic has created a level of fear in physicians like no other.

“It was important for me to understand very early on that the primary loss of lives of physicians in Wuhan, China, were the ENT doctors,” she explained. “With that perspective, we immediately began telehealth early in March – we checked temperatures of patients' at the door, and we advised our entire staff not to come to work if sick. We discontinued all elective surgeries immediately to preserve personal protective equipment and ventilators.”

Coker says the majority of viral carriers are asymptomatic – and unfortunately, many healthcare providers lack adequate PPE stockpiles.

“We know that without the proper equipment we are unable to fulfill our tasks and do the job, there is no substitute,” she noted. “I say a quiet prayer, work with what I have, and thank God for the strength to carry on – everyone must do what they can to take care of themselves and their fellow man.”

The 1986 biology graduate with more than two decades in the medical profession credits Tuskegee with preparing her for her fieldwork.

“Tuskegee alone gave me the confidence to be all that I could be, but most importantly, the university showed me the power of the African American mind,” she said.

Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis

Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis '96

Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis is educating her staff about the coronavirus, providing self-monitoring tools to her patients and using her voice to inform the public. The 1996 nursing alumna and current nurse practitioner at Alabama State University’s Health Center says that prevention is truly the key to decreasing health disparity and controlling the disease.

“We should all be staying at home to minimize our risk,” Davis stresses through her weekly radio broadcast as she encourages others to practice social distancing and shares suggestions with listeners who may be at risk. “Hand-washing is high on the prevention list, followed by sanitizing your work area regularly, wearing a mask when appropriate, and contacting your health provider if you think you’ve been exposed.”

Davis also emphasizes the emotional well-being aspects of the pandemic by suggesting people look for ways to minimize stress and anxiety as much as possible: “Meditating, exercising, reading a book, forming a prayer group, or even calling a distant love one helps us all to refocus and decrease stress,” she noted.

Davis says her biggest takeaway from this pandemic will be remembering not to take life for granted, focusing on what matters the most, and loving deeply while the opportunity exists.

A 24-year healthcare veteran, Davis gives Tuskegee much of the credit for her professional success: “Tuskegee’s nursing program provided an excellent foundation for my career. The fundamental principles I learned at Tuskegee are embodied in how I deliver care to my patient population today.”

Dr. Wesley Davis

Dr. Wesley Davis '09

As a pediatric anesthesiologist, Dr. Wesley Davis’ patient encounters during the pandemic differs from his colleagues in other medical specialties. The patients and families that he crosses paths with are primarily admitted to the hospital and typically have already been screened and educated on the implications of the coronavirus.

Davis says his responsibility to patients and their families is to explain how his anesthetic approach will be tailored to produce a favorable post-surgical outcome while protecting them and others from inadvertent virus transmission. In the field of anesthesiology, Davis says the methodological approach that’s used with patients undergoing anesthesia has changed dramatically.

“We continue to care for our patients with the utmost competence and compassion, yet our safety is now in the forefront of our minds as well,” he explained. “We tend to assume that all patients we encounter might have some exposure to the virus – necessitating that we take every precaution to protect patients and ourselves from potential viral transmission.”  “This involves having and using personal protective equipment and abiding by the newly developed guidelines that my department has set fortDavish to ensure proper protection,” he continued.

In keeping up with safe practicing techniques, Davis says protective equipment is essential in preventing inadvertent transmission between patients, as well with his colleagues. And, he notes that those techniques are not limited to New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.

“Outside of the hospital setting, I practice measures identical to those I use when I am working – frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and sanitizing personal objects are my primary prevention interventions.”

The notion of health disparities was a topic that Davis was first introduced to during his graduate studies biology at Tuskegee. He says the biggest takeaway he’s learned from this pandemic has been that this virus is non-discriminatory.

“It affects not only our older generations, but our youngest, most vulnerable populations as well,” he said. “I’ve witnessed many very young patients and their families devastated by the coronavirus. We must remember that this virus affects the young and old alike as we go about our daily lives when the shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted.”

Davis says that although there’s a plethora of information available regarding the pandemic, it’s important to find credible sources that provide reliable information.

“I am continually educating myself on the literature regarding the coronavirus, along with the scientific, epidemiological, and financial impacts that this pandemic is having on our community,” he said. “The best advice that I can offer at this time is to stay informed to the best of your ability and adhere to the safe practice guidelines provided by health care experts in your region.”

William H. Horn III
Horn III

William H. Horn III '04

As a clinical therapist in North Carolina, William H. Horn III focuses on helping others cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasizes that everyone must find a healthy balance while sheltered at home, as the virus threatens our mental well-being as much as our physical well-being. That includes using apps like Zoom and House Party to stay in visual contact with friends and family.

“I have encouraged my clients to maintain a schedule while under the stay-at-home orders – to include time to relax and release,” explained the 2004 psychology. “With so many entertainment DJs playing some of our classic and favorite hits, now is a good time to use those live music parties as a way to relax and enjoy.”

With recent stay-at-home orders being lifted, he says it’s important to continuing wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowded places and mass gatherings.

“I truly believe that we as a people are greater than this virus and we will come out on the other side with a greater appreciation for our loved ones and experiences we perhaps took for granted. Until then, we all have to take care,” he said.

Monica Smith

Monica Smith '96

Prevention and education are key during this time for registered nurse Monica Smith – who stresses the importance of social distance and protecting yourself during this pandemic.

Smith, whose 23-plus-year career currently includes working with postpartum mothers, says because of her foundation at Tuskegee, she’s able to overcome any obstacle before her. Smith said that, while she’s changed a few practices as it relates to patient care in response to the pandemic, educating her patients remains at the heart of what she does.

“During this time, I’ve had to become more of a teacher to my patients, and because of this, I’ve encouraged my patients to thoroughly review their discharge paperwork. This allows me more time with them so they can ask important questions and focus on their immediate needs,” she said.

The 1996 nursing graduate also says she’s spreading awareness to her patients by reminding them of the importance of good hand-washing techniques, wearing masks to protect themselves and others, and also emphasizing the biggest factor, social distancing. By employing these prevention tips, she says we can help our country beat the pandemic and flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“We’re all having to adapt to a new norm during these changing times, and it’s important that we are all doing our part,” she continued.