KYCOM graduates experience growth and hope during COVID-19 pandemic

Two University of Pikeville–Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine (KYCOM) graduates have been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic during their residencies. Soon after COVID-19 cases began spiking in the U.S., Rachel Willimann, D.O., a third-year pediatric resident working at Nassau University Medical Center in New York, and Nate Hensler, D.O., a second-year family medicine resident at Baton Rouge General, put their rotations on hold to help their healthcare facilities prepare for the influx of COVID-positive patients.

While all agree that the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus has devastated the nation, both were able to come out the other side better, more confident physicians.

Working in the epicenter of the disease in the U.S., Willimann had to transition from pediatric care to adult medicine in an instant. Aside from the direct-care she gave to patients, she found her interactions with their families made the most impact.

“Although this experience has been challenging and draining, it has been a rewarding experience as well. I’ve learned I can handle crisis and handle the emotional and mental stress that comes with it,” said Willimann. “I made a point to call and speak with my patients’ families every day to provide updates about their loved one and comfort them. It was hard for them not to be able to visit, and I know that hearing from me daily made a difference for them.”

In Baton Rouge, a growing hotbed for the disease in the U.S., Hensler volunteered to help open up a shuttered hospital that had been closed for five years. It became a COVID care center for the community, and he was the first resident to work there. After a few months, funding was secured to keep the hospital open for another year to continue serving the community’s needs. As a result of the pandemic, Hensler has grown as a physician and feels ready for anything.

“I went into the situation extremely nervous, but about a week into it, I realized I was taking great care of patients,” said Hensler. “I have the knowledge and capability to treat patients and not feel overwhelmed.”

Both physicians credit KYCOM with preparing them to be great medical providers, and have relied on their training and education to help them get through this trying time.

“A large portion of the credit belongs to KYCOM for providing me with such great education in both basic sciences and clinical medicine,” said Willimann. “I’m very proud to have been a part of KYCOM and be part of the Pikeville community.”

“The medical education I received at KYCOM was great, and paired with the experience I’m getting now shows me I can be a great physician in any scenario,” said Hensler.