In spite of the uncertainty and sometimes chaos of the last year, Adjunct Professor Dr. Jessica Summerfield says her days on-call are characterized by an efficient, unwavering routine.
She wakes up at 5:00 a.m.; breakfast is always coffee and two eggs. After driving to Windsor Regional Hospital - Ouellette Campus, she pulls into her regular parking spot and carefully puts on the layers of necessary protective equipment. The ritual continues with the daily screening upon entering the hospital, and a careful disinfection of the surfaces in her office.
As a COVID-19 frontline physician in the midst of a two-week on-call stretch, Dr. Summerfield makes her way through her list of patients; completing rounds, updating families and reviewing new admissions. While the rate of new infections is slowly beginning to relent, the volume in the hospital remains high.
“I’m coping as best I can, and I’m grateful for a supportive family and fantastic colleagues. Morale has actually been pretty good, even in times like this there is a real sense of collegiality, like we are in it together.”
This strong sense of commitment to her colleagues sent Dr. Summerfield rushing back from a family trip to Disney World just one year ago.
“When we left, the virus was on our radar but not a real threat. While I was there, colleagues were telling me that things were getting much more serious.”
Her colleague, Dr. Marguerite Chevalier, Chief of Family Medicine, was tasked with establishing the COVID-19 assessment centre at the hospital. Dr. Summerfield made the difficult decision to leave her family in Florida, ultimately spending three months apart from her husband and children to volunteer in the assessment centre.
While eventually stepping back from the centre to assume more clinical commitments on the front-lines of treating COVID-19 patients during the past year, Dr. Summerfield also had the opportunity to take on her first significant leadership role.
Although she admits she’d never considered herself as someone who would be in the media spotlight, becoming the President of the Essex County Medical Society provided her with the opportunity and obligation to advocate for local physicians. She’s written reflection pieces for the WE SPARK Health Institute and the Ontario Medical Association, and has been profiled by local news outlets including the Windsor Star and CTV Windsor.
“I wanted to speak up about different experiences that I have been going through. I wanted to give local physicians a voice, and explain what it’s like to be a front-line physician during these times.”
As someone who completed her own residency training in Family Medicine at the Schulich Medicine – Windsor Campus, Dr. Summerfield says it’s also been a pleasure to continue teaching students and residents this past year.
“I just love their enthusiasm; they give me so much energy so it’s nice to have them around,” she said.
Despite the challenges associated with teaching patient care amid strict safety restrictions, Dr. Summerfield hopes students and residents will also stand to gain from entering medicine at such a unique point in time.
“Their infection control practices will be much improved, since they have been taught to be hypervigilant about their PPE; I hope as a result we will have less instances of infection, and they will be more aware of the risk of occupational exposure.”
Although her work on the frontlines has been relentless, Dr. Summerfield has reason to remain hopeful. A recent source of relief has been the addition of a third admitting team.
“One of two less calls a night just eases the burden like you would not imagine,” she said.
Another is the promise of a mass vaccination campaign.
“We have been focusing all of our energy thus far on diagnosing and treating COVID-19 patients, so now we have to continue to do that while also rolling out the vaccination process,” she explained. “But this change in dynamic is very energizing to me, we are finally getting on the other side of this pandemic.”