In the ICU: A fellow physician’s view of the pandemic

Alysa Davis, DO, is completing an advanced fellowship in critical care medicine.

For critical care fellow physician Alysa Davis, DO, working in an intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic is both the most rewarding and the most challenging of times.

“Patients with major and life-threatening issues are everything that an ICU is all about and what critical care training is about,” she says.

Davis, who completed a three-year residency in emergency medicine at UI Health Care, is now in the midst of a two-year advanced fellowship in critical care medicine. Her colleagues say she has been notably upbeat and positive even in the fast-paced, decision-making world of intensive care.

“For me, I feel I’m here to help, and it is the reason I’m training in an academic facility for both emergency and critical care medicine,” she explains.

A defining moment in critical care

Every time she sees a COVID-19 patient, it’s a process of checking and double-checking that she takes the necessary safety precautions of putting on a gown, gloves, face mask, and face shield. Then comes the secondary effort of trying to really connect with her patients.

“It’s definitely challenging because they can’t see if you are smiling under all of the protective gear,” she says. “But I think spending time—true quality time—with patients who can talk and understand what you’re saying, is just as critical as providing care.”

Drawn to emergency medicine and critical care because of the intense “thinking on your feet” atmosphere, Davis has wanted to work in health care since she was a child.

“We lived in the middle of northeast Iowa, almost in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “I have two brothers, one with a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome, which caused him to have poor muscle tone and also to be hungry all the time. We were always going with my mom to doctors, and I found it fascinating to see what they did.”

In high school, she took a health occupations class, which solidified her decision to pursue a career in medicine. Now she is focused on enhancing her knowledge of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and other medical conditions that could impact them.

Calm under pressure

Among the new challenges has been communicating with family members of patients, who are unable to visit their loved ones in the hospital for safety reasons.

“I’m making the phone calls myself every day, making sure they get the information they need,” says Davis. “They seem very thankful for that because they can’t come here in person.”

Training, as always, continues in real-time, as Davis collaborates with her faculty mentors and other hospital staff, who are also caring for COVID-19 patients.

“We discuss ideas on patient rounds, listen to lectures on Zoom, review the latest literature, and stay as up-to-date as possible on the latest advancements in critical care medicine,” says Davis.

If she were to offer any advice to others, it’s to be ready to jump in and help.

“That’s what we’re trained to do,” she says. “We’re still in the midst of this, and it looks like it will be that way for a while.”

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