WVSOM alumna provided COVID-19 care in NYC

Angela Frisby, D.O., was born and raised in West Virginia and received her higher education, including a medical degree, in the Mountain State. But throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been one of many physicians caring for patients with the virus in a place deemed one of the nation’s hot spots — New York City.

The 2016 WVSOM graduate works at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. At the height of the pandemic, she was one of the facility’s chief emergency medicine residents. Even though she was still in residency, she said practicing medicine in a city at the epicenter of a pandemic has been invaluable to her career.

“Training in an urban environment, especially a New York City hospital, has extensively prepared me for my career in emergency medicine, even before the pandemic. We see such a wide range of patients from different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life, and this has only helped me become a better doctor,” she said.

Adjusting hospital operations during the pandemic in Frisby’s final year of residency strengthened her drive and confidence to care for patients, she said. At the time, however, her experience was eye-opening and had a significant impact on her hospital.

Frisby recounted that the emergency department was a chaotic scene of patients parked haphazardly in hallways, monitors and ventilators alarming amidst the sound of patients’ labored breathing. When positive COVID cases were at their peak, in the spring, there were more than 50 admitted patients in the emergency department waiting for beds.

Frisby’s hospital restructured teams in order to have a dedicated set of doctors for patients in the emergency department, and health care professionals from across the U.S. descended upon the city to provide additional help. The amount of personal protective equipment for doctors — gloves, masks, suits and gowns — always seemed to be limited, and Frisby said staff had no choice but to reuse N95 masks. To assist with physician burnout and combat fatigue, though, Frisby’s administration reworked doctors’ schedules to allow no more than three consecutive shifts.

“Being an emergency medicine resident in New York City during that time was extremely difficult mentally and physically,” Frisby said. “One 12-hour shift felt like it lasted for days. My colleagues were becoming my patients, and my patients were dying right in front of me and there was little I could do.”

Even with the demanding shifts and the emotional weight of patients’ lives in her hands, Frisby said she tried to remain positive.

“I chose emergency medicine because I wanted to care for people on some of their worst days. This crisis is the definition of that. My colleagues are some of the most dedicated people I know, and I wouldn’t want to be on the front lines with anyone else,” she said.

Frisby completed her residency in June and is now an attending physician at the hospital where she cared for COVID-19 patients. She will complete a one-year fellowship in addiction medicine. She said that the volume of positive COVID cases in the ER has decreased since spring, but she is still seeing patients who are acutely infected with COVID. In most of those cases, patients previously tested positive for the virus and are now experiencing complications.

“My experience battling COVID in my New York City ER will stay with me forever. It was certainly a humbling one. I have never felt quite so helpless as I did during COVID. In the ER, we usually have the tools necessary to stabilize our patients and get them the care they need. During COVID, there was very little that could be done for some of our patients. Although this was emotionally, physically and mentally taxing, I feel I am much stronger and better prepared for what is to come in my career,” she said.

WVSOM alumni across the U.S. have answered the call to provide care during the pandemic. Frisby said that she and her husband, who is also a WVSOM alumnus, are proud to be part of the WVSOM family. She said the WVSOM community has always been ready to serve, especially patients and populations who may not otherwise receive care.

Looking back on the past seven months at a pandemic that essentially turned the world upside down, there is one lesson Frisby hopes everybody learns from the health care crisis: altruism.

“I hope this pandemic has taught all of us a lesson in selflessness, whether we’re part of the medical community or not,” she said. “Wearing masks and practicing social distancing may not be easy, but these are simple things we must do to protect one another.”

Date Added: 
Monday, November 16, 2020