Rising to the Pandemic Challenge — Pharmacy Students Pitch In
Doctoral candidates Justin Malacaria and Jessica Glantz spent the pandemic not in isolation but in one of Boston’s busiest hospitals.
Being a college student can sometimes be tough. Being a college student and having a co-op can be tough. Being a college student and having a co-op during a pandemic? That’s an experience only a few students can say they’ve had.
Meet Justin Malacaria and Jessica Glantz, two pharmacy students in Bouvé’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Both Justin and Jessica did their co-op at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center last year. Justin’s time at BIDMC totaled nine months over two semesters in 2020. His first started in January and lasted until May. While he was there, the coronavirus pandemic was beginning and brought new challenges to all healthcare professionals.
Justin’s co-op was a 40-hour-a-week responsibility. On easy days, he would work eight hours. Other days would be a double shift where he would start his job at 7:00 in the morning and finish his shift at 11:00 P.M.
“It wasn’t fun,” Malacaria said. “But the overtime pay wasn’t bad!”
Malacaria said his long shifts were the result of staffing shortages. Between his classes and his co-op, there wasn’t much time for anything else.
“I would go to the gym,” he said. “Or sometimes I would just go home. I would cook dinner and go to bed. On co-op I would go in and put in my hours. I didn’t mind it. I love my job there.”
Glantz spent her shifts compounding IV medications and doing on-floor medication deliveries. She described her shifts as, “very busy.” She began her co-op at Beth Israel on April 1 and didn’t realize how busy she really was until the COVID-19 cases began to subside. She called her time working at Beth Israel, “an interesting experience to be given such a big role.” She said working there during the pandemic wasn’t that different from working during another time, but a larger sense of urgency was certainly felt.
“Nurses were calling from the floor,” Glantz said. ‘We need this STAT!’ We’d get a call from the pharmacist. ‘How long will this take?’”
Working in that environment, Glantz knew there were situations in which she would have to hurry. Sometimes she would have sore legs at the end of a shift, but for someone who runs up to eight miles in her spare time, Glantz knows a thing or two about sore legs.
Malacaria is originally from the south shore suburb of Wrentham. Before moving to Boston, he liked living in the suburbs when he was growing up but now finds it, “boring.”
“If I could get a job in the city, I would do it. I need to be in the city,” said Malacaria, who would like to complete a post-graduate residency program.
“If anything, working at a hospital has made me think I want to pursue a residency,” Justin said. “There’s an opportunity to shadow people. A residency post-grad is a lot of work, but I still want to do it.”
Glantz acknowledged working during the pandemic was sometimes overwhelming. One may sometimes question why they wanted to enter this field, but she says it has been worth it. She said her co-workers were supportive, which helped her push through any moments of self-doubt she may have experienced.
Going to work during the pandemic made up the majority of Malacaria’s social life but, as a self-described introvert, he didn’t mind it at all. There was one small part he did mind. Justin turned 21 during the pandemic. Bars and other establishments closed due to coronavirus concerns meant celebrating his birthday would have to wait. Now that businesses are reopening, Justin has been able to go out with his friends to eat and catch up on what everyone has been doing since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of life for everybody regardless of whether they worked in medicine. Working as a pharmacist demands a high level of performance no matter what the environment is outside: mask or no mask; social-distancing or not. The clinical work is the same. The level of effort is the same. Day in and day out, people work to ensure that patients’ medications make them healthy and keep them healthy.
Working at a hospital during the time of COVID-19 certainly tested the mettle of all the employees no matter where they were or what they did. Beth Israel was no exception. Malacaria said that things reached their peak volume in April and May. Despite the spike in patients coming to the hospitals and work for the staffs, those that were charged with seeing to the well-being of the patients didn’t crack. Malacaria said people weren’t stressed about it. His job gave him the chance to talk to patients who were dealing with COVID-19. He took all the precautions before speaking to them: gown, mask, face shield. It was good to see the patients in the hospital, especially those who were struggling with the isolation. Glantz did not have the direct interaction with the patients and isn’t sure everyone who visits the hospital is aware of what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to delivering the medication from the pharmacy to the patient.
While there has been a slight uptick in patients due to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, Glantz says the volume of work hasn’t been near what it was while working during the height of the pandemic.
Getting a co-op while at Northeastern gives a student the opportunity to gain valuable experience so they understand what a job requires when they leave school and enter the workforce, a workforce they have already experienced due to Northeastern’s unique program. Malacaria is glad his co-op allowed him to, “experience the role.”
Glantz also cited the co-op experience as a reason for choosing Northeastern when it was time for college.
“I love my job there,” Malacaria said. “I don’t know how to describe it. I love my job. It’s very rewarding.”
“Nurses express their appreciation,” Glantz said. “You run a medication up to a floor and people say, “‘Thank you. You saved someone.’”
Both students worked for Julie Lanza, who is the Pharmacy Technician Manager at Beth Israel.
“Justin and Jessica are both amazing,” she said. “Wherever they end up as pharmacists are lucky to have them.”