Alumni Profiles

Containing the Contagion

Photo of Laryssa A. Patti
(Photo by John O'Boyle)

Laryssa Patti SAS’10, RWJMS’13 is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in two important ways. As an emergency room doctor at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, she treats patients coming in with symptoms of the disease. As the emergency medicine clerkship director at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, she prepares medical students to be tomorrow’s ER doctors. She spoke to Rutgers University Foundation about both aspects of her work and how the pandemic has affected each.

How are you making sure your students are learning from this experience?

Obviously, we’ve had to make all of our classes online. Normally, we do simulations with mannequins and we’ve adapted to do that online. It’s been a challenge but we’re trying to deliver the same educational quality remotely as we do in person. We also have residents in the ER. They are working their normal schedules and carrying the brunt of patient care. They are truly on the front lines.

How did Robert Wood Johnson Medical School prepare you for this kind of crisis?

The training I got was so broad and diverse, and we spent so much time thinking about how to interact with various parts of the community. Having that experience of providing health care to a community while in medical school has been helpful as we continue to do that now.

What drew you to emergency medicine?

Patients don’t necessarily come in to the emergency department with a label of what is wrong with them. You have to think critically and talk to and examine the patient to figure out what’s going on. There’s a very human aspect to emergency medicine because people are coming in with a concern that we have to address. It’s very gratifying, in a real time way.

What are your biggest concerns as the number of COVID-19 diagnoses continues to climb in New Jersey?

I’m worried about personal protective equipment for health care workers and I’m afraid we’re going to run out of masks. We’ve gotten a lot of supplies from atypical supply chains; people are giving us what they have at home. I’m worried about space in the hospital and whether we have enough beds and ventilators to treat patients. I’m worried about my own family.

I’m glad people in New Jersey have been so responsive so far. It’s reassuring that people have been staying home, trying to limit their excursions, but I worry that people aren’t going to be able to keep it up for a long time.

What is the most important thing people can do to stay safe and keep others safe?

Wash their hands! It sounds so trite but this is a droplet virus; it lives in spit. Hand hygiene has never been as important as it is now.

How do you destress?

Yoga and meditation help. My husband and I have also been taking a lot of walks around the neighborhood. I feel like all of our neighbors are doing this, more than in the past, because there’s nothing else to do! But it’s been nice to chat with neighbors, from a distance.

Is there anything that feels unique about New Jersey’s situation to you?

I was a medical student when Hurricane Sandy happened and I think this is a bit of an echo of that. New Jerseyans take care of each other and they know what’s important. I’m feeling that same vibe now. We’re going to take care of each other, we’re going to get through this.

This story will appear in the spring issue of Rutgers Magazine.