Front-Line Stories

“Thank You to Everyone in the Trenches with Us”: Pulmonary Critical Care Doctor and AUC Alumna Dr. Priyanka Jain on Navigating the Pandemic

“Thank You to Everyone in the Trenches with Us”: Pulmonary Critical Care Doctor and AUC Alumna Dr. Priyanka Jain on Navigating the Pandemic

Priyanka Jain, MD ‘15 can pinpoint the day that everything in the hospital changed, as if “someone had snapped their fingers.”

A pulmonary critical care fellow at Ascension Providence Hospital in metro Detroit, she arrived in the ICU one morning in late March to find the previous week’s empty beds filled, IV poles outside each room, and her colleagues in a buzz of constant motion. 

Since Detroit became a hotspot for the novel coronavirus, this has become the new normal for Dr. Jain, an AUC School of Medicine graduate on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The volume of patients was so high that our three ICUs were full, and we opened up three more makeshift ICUs in the post-op recovery area, the operating room, and the cardiovascular observation unit. And we still had more patients in the ER,” says Dr. Jain. She’s currently based at Ascension’s campus in Southfield, Michigan—one of the hospitals where she completed clinical rotations years earlier as an AUC student.  

Throughout the hospital, it’s all hands on deck as healthcare professionals have stepped up to provide support across department lines. From surgery residents volunteering to place central lines and dialysis catheters, to fellows of all specialties covering shifts on the floor, there are opportunities for everyone to contribute.

“The support has been unbelievable,” says Dr. Jain. “It’s wonderful how everyone is coming together to help get sick people better and keep our heads above water. Our attendings are working tirelessly, all of us critical care fellows have stepped up, our house staff from all different specialties have come together as one, our nurses and respiratory therapists have been superheroes, and all of our support staff have been quietly working in the background to keep everything as seamless as possible.”

As a second-year fellow, Dr. Jain is still early in her medical career but uses her experiences to guide the resident physicians. “When attendings are busy, you try to be their eyes,” says Dr. Jain. “As fellows and residents, we work as a team and problem solve whatever challenges come our way.”

Some days are harder than others. The social distancing required to keep everyone safe means that most patients cannot receive visitors, instead relying on video calls as the main mode of communication. Family members continually seek reassurance from healthcare professionals with questions that don’t have easy answers in the uncertainty of the crisis. 

“COVID cases are more difficult than the cases we used to think were difficult. Results are different across hospitals, so the guidelines are constantly changing,” says Dr. Jain. “But medicine, and critical care in particular, is all about facing challenges and attacking them head-on. And that’s what we’re doing. We are adapting our management, changing our strategies, adjusting our plan of action as we learn more, both from the studies being churned out and from our patients themselves.”

For Dr. Jain, the pandemic has also been eye-opening from a personal standpoint. 

“It can be easy to second-guess yourself, to wonder if there’s something more you could be doing to help. But this whole experience has expanded my threshold and my perception of what I can handle, and I hope it has done the same for the residents,” she says. “I am so very proud of our team. Everyone is working beyond their capacity and we are still making a positive impact. When we are able to extubate a COVID patient and hear them speak for the first time, it makes it all worth it.”

Amid the crisis, Dr. Jain is grateful for her support system within the hospital and the efforts of the larger community. Colleagues check in with each other often, she says, and wellness resources are available at the hospital. Free meals and snacks have been a major relief as well: When she doesn’t have to worry about preparing her next meal, it’s easier to focus on her work.

“None of this is easy—whether you’re in the hospital or at home. And there are many more hard days to come,” says Dr. Jain. “All I can say is thank you to everyone who is in the trenches with us, and how appreciative we are of all the help that is being offered to us.”