Finding resilience and strength from her community during COVID-19
Written by: Kellie Steele, MD/MPH Candidate Class of 2024
A pediatric infection preventionist (IP) at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Chicago with a background in public health, Mitali Shah, MPH, has been working on the front lines of health care since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over that time, Shah has witnessed shifts in protocols, changes to how we understand the virus, and experienced uncertainty and separation from her family. But, she’s also seen resilience, partnerships, and support from her health care community.
When the pandemic was first taking hold in Chicago, Shah and her colleagues faced a lot of fear. "We just didn’t know… for the first few months, it was all about gathering all the experience and information that you can,” she said. Everyone was struggling to keep up with the latest flood of information regarding new guidelines, best practices, and proper protocols. New to her role in IP, Shah worked closely with her team to learn as much as she could, while also contributing her expertise in epidemiology and public health. Part of her job has been learning how to do “exposure work-ups,” which are similar to contact tracing, but on a smaller scale in the health care system. In normal circumstances, this usually includes a patient who has exposed health care workers to a disease. During a pandemic, though, spread can occur both ways, including from health care workers to patients. Since the beginning, Shah and her team have been working on overdrive to keep their patients and coworkers safe.
Mitali Shah, MPH
While Shah and her family have not tested positive for the virus, the pandemic has greatly impacted them: socially, financially, emotionally. Working around the clock on the front lines takes its toll on you. “Sometimes you hit a wall and [realize], ‘I haven’t talked to any other humans this week besides the four people I work with,’” she said. However, Shah has chosen to remain positive and grateful for her work. "With close friends and family experiencing pay cuts and job loss, life as we know it was truly put into perspective," said Shah. "When things get difficult, I really have to start reminding myself how thankful I am to have this job."
In the midst of all the bad, Shah has chosen to focus on the positive and to acknowledge the resilience and community support she has experienced. “I never thought that I would experience first hand the inner workings of a multidisciplinary partnership with different stakeholders in the hospital setting,” she said. “When incident command was activated, it included infection prevention, physician leaders, environmental service and housekeeping, and supply chain. Every discipline and team was truly instrumental and this remains the case. It’s a marathon we are all running together.” We all have a role to play to stop this pandemic, from doctors, respiratory therapists, nurses and infection preventionists on the front lines to every person wearing a mask when going to the store. “People are strong and resilient," said Shah. "We can definitely get through this.”
“One thing we need is more trained public health professionals. For the first time finally, you are hearing more about public health, it’s such a vast field in and of itself. We need more people, whether that’s physicians or epidemiologists or communicable disease investigators. There’s just not enough. It would be great to see more young people feel empowered to go into public health as a field and to further find their niche within it. This won’t be the last pandemic. There will be more challenges to our social fabric as the environment changes and as the population grows. We move around very quickly. While we have a lot of work to do, our resilience and focus on public health will give us the tools we need to overcome what lies ahead.”
If you are interested in sharing your own COVID-19 story, please contact LUPHAorg@gmail.com.