COVID-19 Prompts Public Health Student to Change Course

Bastyr Student standing in front of APHA blue sign

As COVID-19 continues to sweep across the world, dual-degree public health and naturopathic medial (ND) student Ryan Phillips has felt called to respond.  

With the influx of COVID-19 patients now being treated in hospitals, personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with the demand for masks, face shields and gowns, among many other supplies. This need has meant that the majority of PPE in the U.S. has been heading to hospitals (and rightfully so). However, as a result, many other kinds of facilities have been left vulnerable to COVID-19; without the PPE they need, their staff risk spreading the virus, leading to more patients in hospitals.  

Changing Course

Phillips, recognizing this vulnerability, decided to build his Master of Public Health practicum around solving this problem locally, rearranging his class schedule in order to complete his practicum now, rather than the summer.  "We need to focus more efforts at the bottom of the healthcare system so that we can decrease the number of patients who will end up needing a ventilator. Socially distancing is important... but essential workers at long term care facilities can't stay home. We need to protect them and their patients. This will help reduce the strain on the hospitals down the road,” said Phillips.  

To complete the practicum portion of Bastyr University’s public health program, students must devote 200 hours to the project. Phillips’s goal will be to create a database of all long-term care facilities in King and Snohomish Counties and separate them by category and level of PPE needs. This database will include long-term care facilities, nursing homes, in-home caregivers and first responders, to name a few. From there, Phillips will recruit volunteers to call each of these facilities and detail requests of their PPE need. This information will then go to a contact at a large, Seattle-area tech entrepreneur, which has shifted many operations to the production and distribution of PPE.  

“Public health is all about how you can do the most for the greatest number of people with the least. We want these efforts to hopefully trickle up and reduce the burden on hospitals,” said Phillips. 

Database for Naturopathic Medicine Providers

In addition to juggling schoolwork for two programs and family life, Phillips has begun work on another COVID-19 project. His goal is to create a single location where users can find comprehensive information on the naturopathic medical community’s response to COVID-19. Users can access this database and browse links to volunteer opportunities, the latest research, and position papers from naturopathic organizations. The resource also includes local state websites and published research links from the Center for Disease Control. Sifting through the Internet to find resources can be daunting, and Phillips hopes to make things a bit easier for the ND community, because “We need unity during this time”. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, with information changing daily. Several Bastyr students like Ryan Phillips have stepped up to help flatten the curve, distribute resources, and have important conversations with those who can affect change.  

“The current pandemic is a stark example of how one person's health can affect billions. Public health interventions are the most efficient and effective means of ensuring that WE can be healthy together,” said Phillips.  

For more information on Bastyr University’s Master of Public Health program, visit Bastyr.edu/publichealth.  

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