October 26, 2020

Webster student pursues career in medicine during COVID-19

Senior biological sciences major Lauren Coleman’s dream is to enter the medical field. Her journey to this goal has taken her from the Galapagos Islands to the front lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Webster senior Lauren Coleman worked 12-hour shifts at Total Access Urgent Care (TAUC) before COVID-19. As the demand for COVID-19 tests grew last spring, however, her days became 14 to 16 hours long.

After a long day of work, Coleman would wake up the next morning and complete her online coursework. Her mother, Jennifer Coleman, said the long days took a toll on her daughter.  

She was pretty tired [and] pretty stressed out but she loves her job,” Jennifer Coleman said. “She’s motivated to get in there every day and help people.”

Lauren Coleman has helped those in need at TAUC since June 10, 2019. Her hands-on experience at TAUC and Webster is helping Lauren Coleman – who is majoring in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in health and medicine – pursue her dream of working in the medical field.

Total Access Urgent Care

Initially, Lauren Coleman hoped to work as a scribe at an emergency room (ER). She thought she would enjoy working in such a fast-paced atmosphere. The ER had stopped hiring, however, so she had to apply elsewhere.

The job Lauren Coleman found at TAUC turned out to be more informative and affirming than what she expected at the ER. At TAUC, Lauren Coleman learned to interact with and care for patients.

“I feel like that was really important to me to actually get to interact with patients before committing to med school. I mean it is a lot of money and a lot of time,” Lauren Coleman said. “[The hands on experience has] fairly verified my interests in medicine and yeah I really enjoy interacting with patients it is really fulfilling.”

Lauren Coleman stands for a portrait in front of the Interdisiplinary Science Building (Browning Hall). Coleman works at Total Access Urgent Care and is planning on attending medical school after Webster. Photo by Cas Waigand.

TAUC starts by training new employees as techs. Lauren Coleman learned how to check vitals, start IVs, give injections and oral medicine and administer other procedures. Her brigade leader, Vanessa Salarda, said employees are trained as scribes after three or four months. Scribes work with doctors and fill out medical history charts, record exam findings, order procedures and help to create care plans.

Salarda said training employees to work as both techs and scribes helps the day at TAUC run smoothly. She added such training also helps pre-medical school employees build confidence in their abilities and see if they are on the right career path.

“If they find that healthcare is something that I am passionate about, I enjoy this work, then it helps them direct their education in that direction,” Salarda said.

Along with confirming her own career goals, Lauren Coleman said her work has allowed her to apply real-life experience back to what she has learned at Webster. Dr. Stephanie Schroeder – who Lauren Coleman described as her mentor – also thought Lauren Coleman’s position gave her extra insight that textbooks and labs could not provide.

If you are isolating bacteria or taking samples from a patient, there’s probably more than one organism there,” Schroeder said. “It is more applied and more real than what a laboratory course may be.”

COVID-19 offered Lauren Coleman and other health care workers a challenge which was not controlled within a laboratory. Lauren Coleman said, initially, TAUC saw a dramatic increase in patients as people came in to get tested. Many patients were not able to get tested due to the guidelines, but TAUC was still forced to stay open for hours after their official close.

Salarda said Lauren Coleman was training to be for a Team Lead position when the demand for COVID-19 testing initially grew. She was impressed by the skill and dedication Lauren Coleman showed during the hectic time.

“I think the fact that she was able to do her Team Lead training during that very busy, patient-heavy time and you know do it well and be able to earn that achievement certainly is a testament to herself as a worker and her ability,” Salarda said.

Eventually, TAUC put protocols in place to ensure locations would not stay open past the official closing time. According to Lauren Coleman, TAUC set limits on how many people could come in to get tested at once. She added the protocols made working in a busy environment easier.

Her father, Ryan Coleman, said he was impressed by his daughter’s dedication to patients even at the end of long and stressful days.

“When [she has] been there for 11 hours already, I really admire that Lauren is still sharp and at her best,” Ryan Coleman said. “[She] probably treats that last patient of the day as good as the first or second.” 

Managing a sudden increase in patients was not the only challenge COVID-19 presented to Lauren Coleman. She also had to consider the possibility she could unknowingly carry the virus and pass it on to those around her.

TAUC provided workers with masks, disposable gowns and eye protection, according to Salarda. Initially, however, Jennifer Coleman said her daughter had seen people with COVID-19-like symptoms before TAUC put all safety precautions in place.

“I myself have an autoimmune disease that I take medication for so I’m very susceptible,” Jennifer Coleman said. “We were not able to visit with each other for probably two months straight because she was concerned that she would bring it on her.”

Despite the challenges of working during COVID-19, Lauren Coleman said her time at TAUC helped her determine what career she would be interested in.

Webster University Biological Sciences

Lauren Coleman’s experience at Webster has also helped guide her towards her career in health and medicine.

When Lauren Coleman arrived at Webster, she was unsure if she should attend medical school. She knew she enjoyed medical and health-related sciences, but her interest could also lead her to research or nursing careers.

Then, Lauren Coleman went on a class trip to the Galapagos Islands with Schroeder and her classmates. According to Lauren Coleman, the trip was helpful because it showed her what researching animals and their behaviors was like.

I enjoyed [the trip], but it wasn’t something I could see [myself] doing for like the rest of my life,” Lauren Coleman said.

Schroeder said she encourages students to get involved with research opportunities and internships. According to Schroeder, this experience is helpful because it can show students potential careers they like or dislike before committing to a graduate program.

While Lauren Coleman’s trip to the Galapagos Islands showed her a career field she would not want to pursue, the trip also helped her to bond with Schroeder. Lauren Coleman was later able to work with Schroeder in studying potential treatments for skin cancer.

Our undergraduate students are our research colleges. They work with us in our labs. Science is always a team effort. We can’t- faculty can’t do it alone,” Schroeder said.

Lauren Coleman found she enjoyed this kind of research and she explained doctors could be involved in researching illnesses and treatments.

Overall, Lauren Coleman said her passion for science has grown during her time at Webster. Schroeder saw this passion and determination in the classes and experiences Lauren Coleman has pursued.

She has always been a very driven student, always excellent in class. I know she took cell biology as a sophomore that mostly juniors and seniors take…and did really well,” Schroeder said. “I mean she relishes opportunity and challenges.”

However, studying biological sciences at Webster with the goal of attending medical school presented Lauren Coleman with challenges outside of the classroom. She explained that, unlike her coworkers at TAUC who attend Washington University or St. Louis University, she does not have a pre-medical advisor to help her navigate the requirements for medical school.

“[The advisors at WashU and SLU] really coach you on… you need to have this many hours of volunteering or you know this many clinical hours,” Lauren Coleman said. “It’s more like doing a lot of research on your own. Yeah so you really just have to want it and go after it and see what it takes.”

Lauren Coleman said her coworkers at TAUC have helped her navigate the process of preparing for medical school. Ryan Coleman said his daughter is very good at seeking advice and making big decisions. He has no doubt she will find a medical school that is right for her.

“She’s known this decision was coming,” Ryan Coleman said. “I think ultimately when she gets to the point to process all of the information that she has gathered … when she settles on a choice, I think she’ll do great.”

Future Goals

After her experience at TAUC and Webster, Lauren Coleman said she is interested in working as a doctor for trauma patients in the ER. Lauren Coleman said she could change her mind at medical school but her experiences so far have pulled her in that direction.

You never know what is going to come through the door. It could be different every time. That just draws me to it because it’s never boring,” Lauren Coleman said. “You always have to be on your toes [and] be ready for anything to come in.”

Jennifer Coleman thought her daughter’s current career goal would suit her well. She explained Lauren Coleman has always enjoyed being in fast-paced situations where she has to act and think quickly.

For Ryan Coleman, Lauren Coleman’s current goal is not surprising. He said he expects his daughter to excel at any goal she may set for herself.

“I think that Lauren just never met a challenge or a goal that she didn’t feel confident that she could achieve and excel at,” Ryan Coleman said. “If anyone would doubt her or bet that she can’t do it, they’d probably be wrong.”

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