During Katherine Vaughn’s last semester as a student in 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States became real. A double major in chemistry and biochemistry, she was taking two rigorous in-person lab courses which had transitioned online. At the same time, Vaughn was working as a nursing assistant at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
“It was so weird for me because I had one shift the first weekend of spring break and then a second shift scheduled toward the end of break,” Vaughn said in April 2021. “On my first shift, we just had our first COVID-19 case in Virginia. By my next shift, we were seeing multiple cases and my unit was converted into one of the COVID-19 units to prepare for the volume of cases.”
Vaughn had to strike the balance between being a student and keeping up with classes as well as being a frontline health care worker and staying updated on changes related to COVID-19.
Following graduation in May 2020, Vaughn applied to 11 medical schools. She then decided to work while waiting to hear back from the schools. The work came. Vaughn started to schedule herself for more shifts at the hospital when she received an email about a job opportunity at the ArcPoint Testing Clinic.
She learned they needed swabbers for Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium testing station and were looking for people with certifications. Vaughn was CNA-licensed and was quite comfortable knowing that she might interact with potential COVID-positive patients. She applied and began at ArcPoint in September 2020.
There is an art to the nasal swab, Vaughn learned. For some people, having a COVID-19 test is a smooth process. For others, not so. “You remain calm, you work them through breathing exercises and get them to focus on something they enjoy,” said Vaughn, who has seen some people pass out during the test. “You always have to be aware of where they are mentally and emotionally when it comes to testing.”
Vaughn was soon promoted to a supervisor position. Looking back, Vaughn said was incredibly thankful for the experience she had with ArcPoint. She is proud of the lasting positive impact that the clinic has made on the campus community.
In a post-COVID-19 world, Vaughn wants to follow in the steps of her doctor mother and open her own physician practice. She also wants to focus on medical research and run clinical studies.
“I want to treat patients to the best of my abilities and I believe that to do so, you need to be able to understand and critique research, seek out benefits, and critically think for yourself,” Vaughn said.