May 27, 2020—Learning anatomy offers plenty of challenges for first-year medical students: how to properly handle the instruments and correctly identify the many parts of the human body, to name a couple. For current medical students who are continuing their studies remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, add to the challenges internet connection problems, live question-and-answer sessions and limited visibility when looking into the human body they’re studying.
Peace Ekakitie, a first-year medical student at the UF College of Medicine, recognizes how rapidly her medical education has changed in recent months, but she’s rising to the challenge. She says she’s looking for ways to capture those feelings of camaraderie that arise when surrounded by her classmates.
“Many of us chose to come to the UF College of Medicine for the community here, both with our group learning settings and in social settings. We used to do a lot of team-based learning, and now it’s more individual,” she says. “Usually my classmates and I would go to study rooms on the top floors of the Harrell Medical Education Building to review our materials together. Now, we check up on each other over Zoom.”
Ekakitie is patiently waiting for the green light to safely learn in clinical settings again, where she can gain hands-on experience that cements the information she learns in textbooks.
“When you learn of a condition or illness from working with a patient, you will think of that patient’s face and remember what that illness actually looked like. You also practice empathy and learn how to develop a rapport with a patient,” she says.
With help from the Denny Cook Memorial Scholarship, Ekakitie continues to pursue her interests in geriatrics and psychiatry, where she can develop long-lasting relationships with patients often in dire need of a physician’s care.
“Receiving this scholarship is very encouraging,” she says. “It motivates me to hear that somebody out there believes in what I’m doing. What I’m learning now will help me help my community. I can’t wait for the time when I’m done with all this studying, and I’m able to help someone else and give back.”
Ekakitie already gives back through her work with 6FeetCloser, a website developed by a UF College of Medicine student and his undergraduate colleagues that invites users to send video messages of thanks to health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. With her classmates, Ekakitie has been working to expand the group of people who can receive these messages of gratitude to include laboratory professionals testing samples and those in environmental services who keep the hospitals clean and safe. Ekakitie also quality checks the videos before they are sent to health care professionals across the country.
“Even though we can’t be there on the front lines to help, at least we can show gratitude for what they’re doing,” she says. “My classmates and I agree that this is a great opportunity because it helps us connect with individuals who are responding to the pandemic at a time when we don’t feel very useful being quarantined at home.”
When reflecting on the current public health crisis and the medical community’s tireless response, two lessons remain top of mind for Ekakitie as she prepares to be on those front lines herself one day.
“It’s so important to keep up with the most current information when it comes to public health issues. Keep studying, keep checking the latest and know the source that you’re getting your information from,” she says. “This has also highlighted how important it is to be a team player. There is no way to deal with something as big as a coronavirus without working on a team.”