PA Alumna Serves at the Heart of the Pandemic

Physician Assistant Jessica Schindler GS’17 took advantage of her part-time status related to the pandemic to serve those most affected by COVID-19 in New York City last May. “Part of the mentality of going out there and doing it comes from the example of others that I had seen at Bethel—everybody’s freely given time to students and anyone who really needed their assistance. It was that kind of example that helped guide the way,” Schindler says.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

September 23, 2020 | 11:30 a.m.

Since COVID-19 hit the United States, New York City has witnessed about 245,000 cases.

Since COVID-19 hit the United States, New York City has witnessed about 245,000 cases.

When Jessica Schindler GS’17 arrived in New York late April 2020, she said Manhattan was like a ghost town. For a city filled with eight million people, she certainly didn’t come across many as she navigated public transportation from Newark, New Jersey, to the hotel the Office of Emergency Management had set aside for healthcare workers concerned about exposing their families to COVID-19. She didn’t brush shoulders with anyone on the subway, and everyone she talked with in passing had someone in their lives who had been profoundly affected by COVID-19.

And Schindler felt she was exactly where she was meant to be.

As a graduate of Bethel’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant program, Schindler wanted to use her expertise, time, and resources where her country needed it most when citizens of the United States were following orders to stay home and shelter in place this past spring. Hospitals in cities like New York had reached in-patient capacity, while in the Midwest, healthcare professionals in Minnesota found themselves furloughed. Schindler typically worked full-time as a first assist in the operating room for the Specialists in General Surgery group in the Twin Cities, and as the nation began responding to the pandemic, her group planned only to work emergency surgeries. A few weeks into the stay-at-home order, Schindler and her colleagues all agreed to work in rotation every other week, and that’s when Schindler started thinking she could meet a greater need elsewhere in the country. 

In Bethel, I was looking for a program that would go alongside my existing faith and moral and ethical code to help guide me as I was being formed into a medical practitioner along with what that would look like in the real world.

— Jessica Schindler GS'17

Schindler updated her resume and applied for volunteer positions across the country. She searched for a few weeks, and without hearing anything back, she assumed maybe this wasn’t the right time. Then, she received an email on the Saturday after Easter from New York City Health and Hospitals with an assignment. After a phone call that afternoon, a couple errands, and two flights later, Schindler was standing in New York City less than 24 hours from receiving her assignment. And she went to work.

Used to working in an operating room, Schindler’s new home was a 12-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where they cared for patients who had been suffering from COVID-19 for a while. Most of them were on ventilators, and beds only opened if a patient died or was discharged to another floor for rehab. As a teaching hospital, the group did rounds on all 12 patients with the attending physician, and throughout the rest of their shifts, each provider and nurse monitored three or four patients themselves. Many of the nurses worked 28 days straight, and their hard work ethics and genuine love for their patients inspired Schindler.

“It would almost be like family, because imagine: you’re sick with COVID-19, and you’ve been in the hospital for three or four weeks on end. You can’t see your family,” Schindler says. “Nobody can come to visit you, except the people who are taking care of you. These patients are very lonely. Some of the nurses would really take their patients under their wings and treat them like family, which was inspiring to see.” Schindler also explained that these nurses had been caring for four to five ICU patients when things were at their worst in New York, and by the time Schindler and others had been sent to support the hospitals, the nurses managed the care for two ICU patients. She had arrived during the initial upswing, and for the month she was in New York, Schindler witnessed things gradually improve. 

She transitioned to another—not as critical—ICU because the hospital’s original emergency staff had the capacity to serve in their typical positions. Even before she returned to Minnesota, a few of the beds opened and stayed available for significant amounts of time. The ICUs eventually resorted back to what they were supposed to be, rather than various levels of a COVID-19 ICU. “Those were all definitely good signs that things were calming down and starting to return to closer to normal,” Schindler says.

She has been back in Minnesota since June, and even at the end of summer, the Specialists in General Surgery group was just settling into their new normal, catching up with patients who had appointments in the spring. Schindler still gets to do what she loves best: working with the human body. Her mom’s family is full of engineers across the field, and Schindler has followed in their footsteps in her own way. “To me, the human body is the most complex machine—if you will—that you could imagine,” she says. “Working with the human body has been a dream come true for me. Medicine is what I wanted to pursue and definitely something that will keep me learning all my life.”

And that attitude of lifelong learning has impacted every area of her life, including her experience at Bethel. She wanted to learn about medicine as well as how to honor her faith and own ethical perspectives. “I feel very fortunate that I got into that program where the staff were not only trying to teach medicine, but also how to spiritually and ethically be true to yourself and your patients,” Schindler says. “That’s rare to find in this country—a PA program that addresses that aspect of medicine and what it means not just for patients, but for providers.”

Become a Physician Assistant at Bethel

Our M.S. in Physician Assistant program prepares students to become physician assistants who provide meaningful medical care with integrity, like Jessica Schindler GS’17. Our PA program provides the credentials to practice medicine alongside physicians, providing services as varied as healthcare itself.

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