I never really thought much about how much my life has transformed since completing my undergraduate degree at NYU SPS. The SPS podcast “How I Got Here” gave me a space to talk about how my DAUS (Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies) academic experience changed how I engage with my own histories as a Black woman.
I’m honored to have shared my experience as an adult learner and a marathon/ultramarathon runner. I am a parent of two college-age children. Caring for family and returning to school to complete my undergraduate degree was not easy, but it was worth it. Being able to look back and see how courses in history, science, archaeology, and media led me to pursue two Master’s degrees in health is amazing. As a future public health practitioner and clinician, I feel that having a background in history and media is critical to understanding the needs of the communities I serve.
Currently, I am working as a Patient Care Technician. I work alongside a team of doctors and nurses caring for both Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Medical Surgical patients. During the first wave of COVID-19 in spring 2020, I signed up to volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps (New York) and was deployed to Maimonides Medical Center. Before March 2020, I never had worked in a nursing unit or a hospital. And I never had drawn blood from a patient nor administered or read an electrocardiogram (EKG).
During the early days of COVID-19, teamwork was the key to doing what needed to be done to keep patients alive and well. There were weeks when I worked overnight for seven days straight and served in ambulatory COVID units, stroke units, pediatrics, and SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit)-step-down units. I worked with doctors and nurses who were deployed to Maimonides Medical Center from all over the country. They saw how hard I was willing to work. I wasn't afraid to enter a COVID patient's room or a TB (tuberculosis) patient's room. I attribute my contributions in caring for patients to my education at NYU SPS. As an NYU SPS student, I owned and engaged with my coursework; I worked through life challenges; and I formed connections with fellow peers, faculty, and professors. My multidisciplinary coursework and independent research taught me that if I am willing to try something new and face the challenges in finding answers, my professional opportunities can be limitless, even as an adult learner.
It was a challenge to keep my composure when a patient coded (i.e., needed emergency resuscitation). Some nights, two or three patients coded in my unit. Teamwork was required to save a patient's life. It was difficult because you form an attachment to patients. Even if a patient is sedated, you hold their hand, you learn about their families. In the first wave of COVID-19, due to restrictions, which meant patients' families could not visit a patient, I became a patient's family. Even when a patient codes, you have to do your best to keep a smile on your face, offer care, and be a listening ear and continue to administer care to patients in your unit.
Unfortunately, this rawness of facing the pandemic reminds me of the rawness I experienced during the first wave of the AIDS pandemic. Losing multiple family members to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, I saw firsthand how health policies are designed to silence communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. I see that happening again with COVID-19 and some of the economic fallout due to the pandemic. During the first wave of COVID-19, I saw patients of color who had pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, succumb to the virus at higher rates than others.
I had decided to pursue a Master's in Public Health at NYU after taking one undergrad public health course. My purpose in obtaining an MPH is to work with communities in New York City that are among those at the highest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Women continue to be among the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses here in New York City.
During my first semester, I started learning about environmental, ecological, and policy factors that have never been properly addressed in communities of color. These are some of the core factors that lead to high rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases in communities of color. After researching high rates of severe maternal morbidity in Afro-Caribbean women living in East Flatbush for my Global Issues in Social & Behavioral Health course, I decided to continue focusing on community health issues in East Flatbush.
I am currently completing my doula certification. Upon completion of my MPH at NYU Global Public Health, I plan to obtain my Master’s in Nursing and then pursue a Ph.D. in Anthropology. These career options would not have been possible without the academic foundations I received pursuing my undergraduate degree at DAUS.
Michele Thorpe is a MPH, Global Health candidate in NYU’s School of Global Public Health. She is the recipient of a 2021-2022 NYU Social Sector Leadership Diversity Fellowship.