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Sanford residency doctors wind up in front line of COVID-19

Sanford residency doctors wind up in front line of COVID-19

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Doctoral students in the Sanford Health residency program in Pierre have served as the front line for COVID-19 patients for the last year, along with the physicians they’re learning from.

Residents are graduates with both a Bachelor’s and doctoral degree, who spend three or more years in a residency at a hospital, working under practicing physicians to further advance their skills and education before becoming board-certified in their area of specialization.

Both Dr. Abigail Serpan, a third-year resident from Kansas, and Dr. Maurice Chessmore, a second-year resident from Nebraska, took up their family medicine residency in Pierre during the pandemic through Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls. Serpan describes the residency as an “apprenticeship.”

The residents said much of their training was “Covid-focused.”

“A positive challenge, or something we’ve learned from Covid from a residency standpoint is that out here, we are the frontline for a lot of the Covid patients that we see,” Chessmore said.

One of the patients Chessmore saw in the clinic was a few days into her Covid illness. He saw her in the emergency room in Pierre days later. Then, she had to go into the hospital and was flown in to Sioux Falls, before she came back to the Pierre emergency room once again, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.

“It’s been challenging seeing what COVID-19 has done to people’s lives, and how real it is,” he said. “It’s a challenge to see the people that suffer from it, and the problems and long-term complications that patients are having from it is a challenge from any provider’s standpoint.”

Serpan was in Pierre six months prior to the pandemic and said she can see the difference between what she called normal era and pandemic era.

“There has been a big change with how folks treat coming to the doctor,” she said.

Less patients came in, because they were following recommendations to stay home, she said.

Completing a residency in the pandemic also taught the both doctors-in-training some new things.

Serpan said she learned more about ventilator management, being on the frontlines and working as a team to solve problems. It was a more “hands-on experience,” she said.

Telemedicine played an important part in her residency experience, too, she said, noting the tele-visits aren’t likely to go away any time soon because how important the technology is to connect physicians and patients.

Chessmore said he was exposed to more in a rural hospital setting in Pierre than he was in a more urban hospital setting like Sioux Falls, such as being responsible for making decisions on incoming trauma cases.

He said he also learned the importance of keeping up-to-date on the medical literature and information, especially on masking guidance, hydroxychloroquine trials and COVID-19 treatments.

“You have to know your stuff, and you have to be comfortable handling challenging situations,” he said. “That’s the point to this residency program. Nothing would scare me more than being at a big volume system and never having to manage a trauma on my own.”

As she nears the end of her residency, Serpan said working in a rural setting is a positive experience. She grew closer with her patients, and they were always excited to see her.

“You see your patients in the neighborhood, and you’re a big influence in the smaller communities,” she said. “Not just being a doctor, but a lot of physicians will go on to be part of the school board or city council. You’re a part of the community, and (you) help build the community.”

“That’s something Covid has shown us,” she added. “The community comes together.”

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