Image shows a woman wearing a mask, glasses, and a white, grey and brown sweater, seated at a table in the Cove of the Kilcwaley Student Center.

Kaitlyn Cochenour, YSU student and story interviewee, practices COVID protocols in the Cove of YSU's Kilcawley Student Center.

Health Care, College and COVID-19

by Elizabeth Coss

Managing a job and college is more than most people can handle, but working and keeping up with college has drastically changed since COVID-19 started. Most students continue to do both despite the pandemic, balancing course work and tasks from a regular shift at a local store or business. The goal of keeping a job to pay off tuition and bills, and the goal to walk out of college with a degree in their desired field is the dream of students across America, but for one student, Kaitlyn Cochenour, learning to balance her schoolwork and job is more complicated than most.Cochenour, a business administration student, and part of the marketing department at Youngstown State University, works as a heart monitor technician at UPMC Jameson, in New Castle, Pa. While there, Kaitlyn watches heart monitors and studies rhythms on screens and makes sure patients are in stable condition. The risks going into the job were various, considering she applied and secured the job working in the hospital during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

She took the job, because she saw it as, “a new opportunity and a good chance to do something that meant more.” However, due to COVID-19, there was some anxiety going into the position regarding infection rates and working in a hospital during a pandemic. Pennsylvania has been noted as one of the hardest hit states during the pandemic, and not only does Kaitlyn live there, she now works there in a hospital. “I was nervous about the hospital in itself. My duty doesn’t have much patient contact, so I wasn’t as nervous as some other people would be, but there was the chance that I’m still in the hospital where COVID is very prevalent,” Conechour states regarding when she first started working at UPMC Jameson.

However, most of Conechour’s family was supportive of her decision about going into the job. “My mom wasn’t super excited about it just because of COVID and everything that it brought with it.”

Carol Cochenour, her mother, was more nervous about Kaitlyn’s occupation. “I was still pretty nervous,” she said, “Kaitlyn’s pretty strong-willed, and she took it anyways.”

Kaityln stated that despite her anxieties going in, she has felt safe, commenting that, “as far as PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) goes and just regulations and everything, it’s been very much made to protect us and the patients while they are there.”

Kaitlyn’s experiences with patients have differed greatly. She says she has “seen all kinds of different patients recover from things that they absolutely shouldn’t have recovered from, and that’s been the coolest thing to see, because before I had worked in the healthcare industry, I didn’t realize how much your body does to protect itself, and I think it’s cool just seeing everyday people’s bodies protecting them.” She finds it interesting to be able to see something new daily, but to watch people heal and recover was one of things she enjoyed most about working in the hospital environment because she had never really been in these kinds of scenarios until now.

College in general has been hard for most students to keep up with during COVID-19. Students across the country have started feeling the pressures of work and school. For Kaitlyn, finding a rhythm to her classes and work is something she has been striving for recently. Being a full-time student along with working at Jameson, Kaitlyn adds that the job and work balance is something she appreciates and that she is still able to manage both respectively.

“It offers a very, very good work-school balance, so I’m able to still do my studies while I’m working,” she said.

She describes the overall impact of her job on this semester as positive and says it is going well, adding that between work and class she is able to keep up with both and feel good about the work she is putting out.

“Just because of the duties that I have, it gives me a lot of time to do my schoolwork while I’m there, so the fact that classes are mainly online makes it a lot easier cause most of my schoolwork is done while I am there,” Kaitlyn said.

Her mother also states that Kaitlyn was doing well regarding school adding that, “Her grades portrayed that she’s doing a good job,” in addition to managing her occupation and college, her mother notes Kaitlyn “also has her own house and she is doing an internship, so her plate is full.”

However, Kaitlyn acknowledges that managing all these things right now is somewhat difficult. She says, “It is mentally taxing, it’s 12-hour shifts, so I’m there all the time, and managing that with school has been a hard balance, but I’m figuring it out.” When discussing her future, she added that the healthcare field is too big for what she wants to do, and would like to focus on something smaller and more local with her business degree. However, she does enjoy the rush of work flow she experiences from the hospital.

Going forward, the biggest thing she is looking forward to through her job at the hospital is, “Getting better at what I do and developing more and learning more everyday as I go.” She notes that through this job she is learning about promptness and accountability.

“Just learning that it’s very much just about being there on time, being present, doing my best work every day, I think that’ll help carry on into the future,” Kaitlyn said.

Kaitlyn believes this job is going to be one of the most influential jobs she will work at in her life, and she looks forward to seeing how working in the healthcare industry shapes her views and work ethic. She credits the fast-paced nature for training her for a hectic schedule she believes it will help her deal with clients in the marketing field.

Since Kaitlyn took up the position back in October, Lawrence Country saw a rise in deaths from COVID-19 around December into the new year according to data from the Pennsylvania Health Department Dashboard. December 10th marked the most cases announced in one day for Pennsylvania at 12,818 new confirmed cases. As of March 16, 2021, Pennsylvania has administered over 3 million vaccines, 9,891 of those full vaccinations being in Lawrence County.