Anant Naik, Class of 2022

Carle Illinois’ College of Medicine students are among the first to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Their clinical studies call them to be on the frontlines of healthcare, in most cases sooner than other medical programs.

They are essential workers, and while they do not work directly with COVID-19 patients, they offer support for various efforts across the Champaign-Urbana community.

Carle Illinois’ students began receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in early January 2021. “I thought that getting the vaccine was one of the best ways to not only protect myself but also my patients that I will see so often. As a future doctor, I felt that it was my duty to receive the vaccine in order to keep my patients, family, and friends safe from the spread of COVID-19,” said second-year student Jack Lowe.

Jack Lowe, Class of 2023

While honoring his duty as a future physician, it is important to Lowe to apply his experience with the vaccine into a medical opportunity to help others. He lives with Type I diabetes and wants to use his experience to inform others in the diabetic community. “I want to share my experience with the vaccine – if there were any adverse effects to my blood sugar, etc. Spoiler alert: there haven’t been any changes,” Lowe said.

First-year student Anders Gould moved to Champaign-Urbana from Seattle in August 2020 to start medical school in midst of the pandemic. He said “good-bye” to his family not knowing when he would be able to see them again. “I chose to forgo travel during both fall and winter breaks to lower the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. So, with the vaccine, I hope to visit my family sooner rather than later,” Gould explained.

Anders Gould, Class of 2024

Gould’s hands-on clinical learning experiences were also a driving force behind receiving the vaccine. He’s in the clinic weekly performing learned techniques on real-life patients. Gould works with Dr. William Scott, Carle Illinois clinical associate professor, in Occupational Medicine at Carle Health through his Introduction to Clinical Practice course. “We currently wear face masks and face shields to the clinic, and having the vaccine adds an additional layer of protection for patients as well as the medical staff. I also plan to shadow at Carle Hospital this semester, so having the vaccine has definitely made me feel more comfortable pursuing this,” Gould said.

As a third-year student, Anant Naik saw the devastating effects of COVID-19 on patients first-hand while doing rotations. His surgical rotation involved rounding on patients who had COVID-19.  He saw the complications patients could develop, not only physical ailments but the emotional challenge of struggling through the course of illness without the physical presence of family and friends. “I was inspired by the many stories of healthcare providers and frontline workers taking ownership and stepping into the roles of emotional support,” Naik said. He is now hoping to innovate technology over his time at Carle Illinois that will bridge that gap if the healthcare industry is ever in this position in the future.

Attending medical school during a global health pandemic has its advantages and disadvantages. Navigating Carle Illinois’ engineering-based curriculum is more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions and safety protocols.

However, studying medicine during a once-in-a-century pandemic is an experience that will benefit students throughout their careers. Students have risen to the challenge and are outperforming all metrics of success. “My fellow students and I have had amazing opportunities to learn, adapt, and innovate in response to COVID-19 challenges. We are a close-knit community and get through it by supporting one another,” Gould said.

Receiving access to the vaccine has certainly helped. “We are fortunate in that our university and public health department have been leaders in fighting the pandemic. For medical students to be considered a priority for the vaccine is a very special privilege,” Lowe said.

That privilege is giving Carle Illinois students hope- not just for their peers but for their families, and healthcare around the world.  “I’m extremely thankful for all of the work that has been put in by the administration at Carle Illinois to make sure students have a quality medical education during these difficult times. The rapid saliva testing has allowed our academic and clinical learning to take place both virtually and in-person. Hopefully, now that we have a vaccine, things will soon return to relative normalcy,” Gould emphasized.