Jazmin Soloman is an MPH student on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. She discusses here how the coronavirus has changed her work atmosphere, and how her degree in public health has opened up doors for her.
I am a paramedic and the EMS Training Coordinator for Pinellas County EMS and Fire. I develop and coordinate the training for Pinellas County’s EMTs and paramedics, and I work on the ambulance one day a week.
Interestingly enough, when I started grad school I had a lot of people ask me why I chose to become an MPH student. My bachelor’s degree is in Emergency Management, so people were curious how a Master in Public Health would help me in my career. Now, for the first time, people understand, and they can see how everything all ties together.
Because of my public health background, I was tapped to join the Pinellas County COVID-19 planning group. There are also a number of smaller subcommittees that meet to discuss all the different things that we can do to support each area of the community including kids, elderly, nursing homes, hospitals, EMS, and fire.
I’ve also been able to incorporate a lot of what I’ve learned in my practicum experience working with disease epidemiology at the health department.
Normally I plan education and training just for EMTs and paramedics and make sure that they have the knowledge and skills to do their job every day.
Right now, I’m still putting on in-person classes with instructors but in a modified format with special precautions. We’re taking all kinds of different measures to protect everybody. Everyone gets a thermometer at the beginning of the course, and they have to take their temperature every morning and show it to me before they can walk through the door. We are observing a six foot standoff, everyone is in surgical masks at all times, and student ratios have drastically changed. We only have nine EMT students and one instructor in the classroom at one time.
We can’t stop our classes, because if we stopped EMTs and paramedics from becoming certified, then we wouldn’t have enough EMTs and paramedics to cover for the people who may become sick and unable to work. We need to continue to keep the workforce moving, so we’re working on changing the protocols to protect our EMS and fire crews.
Since the pandemic, we’ve changed how we interact with and treat patients, and we’re also educating our providers on keeping the standard of care the same. We’ve had to change our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) several times, so we are also educating providers on new PPE as we get it.
I am also working to make sure that we have educational materials available for the public – and that is an area where I’ve really been able to draw on my MPH coursework. We need to be able to explain to the community what is going on, and have it be understood by all different cultures and education levels.
Working with the CDC, the Department of Health, and our paramedics, we put together home care instructions in several different languages. Not everyone needs to go to the hospital if they have tested positive for COVID-19. People can stay home when they’re sick, but we have to make sure that they have the home care instructions that they need.
I’ve used what I learned in the Health Literacy and Plain Language class a whole lot recently. The concept of health literacy is to make health knowledge accessible to a wide range of people. This can include translating things into several languages, making sure the concepts aren’t too complex, making sure the language is not too difficult, and always including pictures and images when possible.
So as I sit in these meetings with the health department, EMS, and fire, and we’re putting together these educational pieces, I’ve been able to make sure that they are accessible to a wide range of people.
It seems so simple, but it’s not something I would have thought of before I took that health literacy class. I don’t think the majority of people take accessibility into consideration when they’re creating these assets to distribute to the community.
In general, everything is changing – and I don’t think we’re going to go back to how we used to do things. We’re going to be working to make sure that we protect everybody, and we are going to be focused on minimizing the spread of these viruses.
I think the need for public health professionals is going to grow. I think we’re also going to be making changes for our responders and our providers, and I think we’re going to be more involved in releasing information to the community in the form of public service announcements.
We have also had to reexamine how we deliver education. Every four years, each of our county’s 1,950 providers need to take a certain class. Traditionally we have held these classes in local fire stations, but now we can’t. We don’t want clinicians holding classes in the same place where our first responders are sleeping and eating, because that can raise their risk of getting COVID-19 – or any virus.
There are a lot of different elements to consider, and we’re changing all kinds of things to protect everyone involved.
I have been going in one day a week and working with the epidemiologists there. Every epidemiologist has an area that they’re focused on, and I’ve worked with several different people on several different diseases. I’ve gotten to see what they do, how they report incidents like animal bites or diseases like hepatitis B or hep-C.
It has been interesting to observe how each person works, and how data gets put into the system. I worked with one epidemiologist putting together the reports on influenza, and it was interesting to witness how those reports go from the health department to the state, to the CDC – and the time frame it all happens in.
So when we’re in a class doing research – now I understand how the data gets there and how valid some of it is, and how some of it isn’t, based on where and how they get the data. I never thought I’d be excited about something like that!
We needed a more efficient way to get information to clinicians and providers. Our medical director would release information and pass it along to hospital higher ups, who would pass it along to the clinicians. Clinicians were not getting anything directly, and information was getting lost in translation similar to a game of telephone.
We needed to find different ways to communicate with the clinicians and the responders. I wanted a way for people to access real-time information, directly from the source. So I started a twice-weekly YouTube Live Q&A session. I wanted to create an opportunity for people to ask questions and feel like they were getting the answers.
The Q&A sessions are with the medical director and me. We sit together and answer the questions that come in. It has really taken off, and now every fire department in Pinellas County is doing YouTube Live Q&As once a week.
I’ve had two babies since beginning this program, and I work two jobs. As challenging as it has been for me to be an MPH student, the online format has been amazingly convenient. I’m almost finished! I really feel that I’ve found a new passion in the field of public health.
I considered a lot of master’s degree options – and I chose public health because it felt right for me. Now, and especially with the world changing as it is, it’s more confirmation that I made the right choice. I’ve made it work and I’ve learned a ton. You can’t really beat that.Master of Public Health | MPH | MPH Student Spotlight