COVID-19 Perspectives: Internship in the Time of the Pandemic

Student sitting in a field

COVID-19 has affected all NSU community: students, faculty and staff. Below is a perspective of one member of the community: Brianna Geigle is a student in the Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) program. She was completing her internship when the pandemic broke out.

Q: In what ways did your internship experience change following the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the US?

A: I had just started my last rotation, in microbiology, when COVID really made a presence in the US. I was interning at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. When COVID hit, it was a big talking point in the lab. The lab I was working in actually was the first one in South Carolina to start collecting and processing COVID tests, and being in the microbiology lab, I got to personally handle these samples. Our lab had a preliminary screen for the coronavirus, and if that was positive, the test was sent to the state lab for COVID-specific testing. I was supposed to be in the microbiology rotation for four weeks, but instead I was in it for one week, and in that one week, the lab went from a normal, student-teaching lab, to a lab with extra precautions and a lot of confusion and unknown. Apart from changing how the lab itself operated, COVID forced me to finish my microbiology rotation online, which was a disappointment because reading antibiotic susceptibilities and working with samples possibly positive for diseases like tuberculosis just cannot be put into an online format and still elicit the same level of excitement and curiosity.

Q: Is there anything in these changes that you think will prepare you better for your future career?

A: I think the biggest aspect of this change that will impact my future career was the realization that you can read all the textbooks and study all you want, but healthcare and medicine are dynamic and ever-changing, and you have to be prepared and willing to adapt. It is so easy in healthcare to get into a routine, so when something big, like this pandemic, comes around, it is difficult to adjust procedures and accept the additional steps in each process.

Q: Were there any moments/classes/experiences at Northern that helped prepare you for the unique challenges that you faced doing an internship during a pandemic?

A: In all honesty, I only participated in the internship for one week during the pandemic since the program was cut short, but even so, my Northern science classes helped me to be curious and ask questions about the virus. A lot of my time in the lab was spent talking to the other techs about what they knew about coronavirus and the testing procedures that were in place for it. Classes like Immunology taught me to think about not only how the virus was exploiting human cells, but also the epidemiology of the disease, how it was able to spread so quickly and stay undetected. Additionally, the high expectations and heavy workload of Northern classes prepared me to be an efficient lab technician, as I had three years to hone my time management and prioritization skills. Working in a lab during a pandemic definitely required a bit of gusto and the ability to handle a lot of new information in a short amount of time while managing the influx of samples.

Q: What advice/insight do you have for students who might be considering a career in MLS?

A: My advice for students considering an MLS career is to invest in it. Even if you are considering further schooling in medicine, for example, medical school or PA school, this career is a great starting point. I did not realize the breadth of the field or how much it relates to medicine until I started the MLS classes. Knowing how to interpret test results and solve discrepancies is going to play a major role in my future career as a PA. The lab is the heart of the medical field: without it, doctors would not be able to properly dose medications, identify specific pathogens causing disease, or evaluate cancer treatments. Being an MLS is a perfect opportunity to have a job where you go home at night and can say, "I saved someone's life today."