Iowa Black Medical Professionals Share Stories of Fighting on the Front Lines of COVID

Honoring Black History

DES MOINES, Iowa – For more than a year now, America has been in the midst of a battle against the coronavirus which has killed more than five-thousand people in Iowa alone. On the front lines of that battle have been medical professionals, including several African-American physicians and care providers in the Des Moines area.

“I remember walking into this room, I saw terror in the eye of that patient. This guy was terrified,” said Dr. Patrick Oben, a hospitalist at MercyOne. “I’m your doctor. I’ll be here for you. I don’t want you to be afraid, and you could feel the atmosphere of the room change. This guy was relieved. I came to realize that touch just, touching him and being there for him was better than all the medications that I could have prescribed for him.”

Additionally, doctors said wearing a personal protection protection everyday created a barrier between doctors and patients. The pandemic has also taken a toll on medical professionals. 

“To have a patient come in and you’re talking to them one day and the next day you come into your shift they’re on a vent, you as that nurse feel so emotionally distressed,” DeAnna Pingel, Broadlawns, Registered Nurse, Clinical Care Coordinator.

But late last year a vaccine to fight the virus was announced bringing hope to those working on the frontlines. 

“The only reaction that I had [after getting the shot] both times was just a sore arm,” said Pingel. 

Following the announcement of a vaccine came a new responsibility of convincing the black community to take it. But with American history of the Tuskegee experiment and the story Henriette Lacks, many Black Americans are hesitant about the vaccine. 

“I do think that they know our history, and they know that we tend to not have primary care physicians,” said Dr. Judy Walker, UnityPoint, Medical Director of Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“We tend to not go to the doctor as frequently as some other people do. And so they, we all recognize, especially African Americans in medicine, recognize that black people don’t have a trust in medical community as a non-minority population.”

However, an African American woman, Dr. Kizzmeika Corbit, is a trailblazer behind the vaccine. Now doctors are working overtime to gain African Americans’ trust. 

“Don’t allow history to predicate what you’re going to do in your future. Find the facts, look up the facts,” said Anesa Buchanan, UnityPoint, Senior Clinic Administer Family Medicine at East Des Moines.

“If you need to call your family physician to ask questions. But don’t just take for face value some things you see on social media delve into it and educate yourself.” 

Although the race to get the vaccine is tight the fight of sharing information about the vaccine is a priority. 

On Dr. Oben’s Facebook page, he creates videos informing people about the vaccine. Buchanan said that she shares information with neighborhood churches. 

It’s been almost a year since the pandemic has swept the country and the Annerose Wilson, a registered nurse at Broadlawns, feels fortunate to work on the frontlines and serve others during this pandemic. 

“I signed up to be a nurse, to do this job umm I know that there are a risk not only with COVID-19 I think with time has gone, it’s just being educated I think if we educate people. We will be better informed and be not so afraid.”

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