By Jenny Marcinkowski
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, students at the College have been volunteering at health departments and community-based organizations, most recently at the College’s testing site located in Decker Hall. The staff, which includes 21 student interns and EMTs, are among those helping run the school’s weekly testing program.
Kimberly Lewis, a public health and communications major at the College, is an office assistant at the testing site. Part of the work she does includes check-ins, ordering tests and finalizing results into the portal.
She previously worked as an intern at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center during the summer at the Quality & Patient/Resident Safety department. She was then asked to aid in the Covid department over winter break.
“It was during that time when I found out…that Bergen New Bridge was going to be the provider for the College’s Covid-19 testing and was asked if I would be interested in helping at TCNJ,” Lewis said. “This was the perfect opportunity to work, take classes, help others, and make connections. So I was lucky enough to meet Kyle and transfer from a Covid intern at the hospital to an office assistant at TCNJ.”
She added that her education and athletic performances at the College has helped at her new position. She said that the College has helped her gain the networking skills to be able to exceed and praised the College’s public health department for the internship requirement built into the program. A testament to the department’s focus on the pandemic can be seen in the fact that 1 in 5 public health capstone students are working on projects involving Covid-19.
“Although no one could anticipate Covid-19 last year, our goal is to be at the forefront of public health, and that includes being part of responses to epidemics. Students are trained in health administration, epidemiology, health and wellness as well as health disparities. All of these classes give students knowledge and skills to both be part of the solution, but to also look out for vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Brenda Seals, Associate Professor and Chair at the Department of Public Health.
The student interns at the testing site have completed courses in healthcare, science or public health. The EMTs are New Jersey or nationally certified in basic life support. In addition, the EMTs have to work four-hour shifts and the student interns work around 15 hours a week. In addition to this, every new hire at the site went through training at the Bergen New Bridge Medical Center campus or virtually.
“Our undergraduate and graduate students complement the rigorous curriculum they receive in the classroom with experiential learning in the field of public health semester after semester so it is not surprising that they are selected for these roles such as at the testing center at TCNJ — they make for a perfect fit. Their academic training and experiences prepared them to be working on the frontlines of the Covid-19 response,” said Livia Lazzaro, internship coordinator for the public health department.
Lewis added that one of the most beneficial aspects of her internship was being able to learn Microsoft Excel, which she never got the chance to learn at school. In addition, she noted the importance of gaining experience within the field and how the testing site gave her more structure, which she said will help with the transition after graduation.
The site has already faced its fair share of challenges due to inclement weather, pushing testing back two days. On Feb. 3 and 4, the site administered 80% and 40% more tests, respectively. Another issue was students not showing up to their scheduled appointments, but appointments have since been further enforced through email reminders and extended evening hours.
“Overall, dealing with the large crowds that come at once and having to double check their information can be stressful, especially if people don’t have patience, but the vast majority of students and staff have been really grateful and patient,” said Donnalee Corrieri, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for Bergen New Bridge Medical Center.
Similarly, Lewis said that the days after the snowstorm were the toughest for the testing site. Due to the large crowds and waiting times, some people grew impatient, but noted that for the most part people were grateful for their work.
Lewis emphasized, “Everyone must still do their part to slow the spread so be smart about what you do and continue to wear your mask and get tested regularly!”
As of Feb. 9, Bergen New Bridge Medical Center has administered 4,496 tests to students and staff.