Reports about the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa had been in the news throughout the summer when the Pentagon announced that two Americans serving there had been infected and would be transported to the specialized isolation unit at Emory University Hospital for treatment. The news catapulted senior Ryan Le, a senior biology major with a minor in public health, into a hospital administration internship experience that he could not have anticipated when he was accepted into the 12-week Emory program.
In preparation for the arrival of the first patient Dr. Kent Brantly, Le joined employees and interns in learning how to address public concerns about the Ebola patients and characteristics of the disease. He helped minimize panic and assure patients and Atlanta-area residents that Emory had the situation under control.
“The atmosphere was tense for the majority of my internship. People were cancelling appointments and calling in wanting to remove family members from the hospital,” says Le. “I had the opportunity to shadow the call center, listening in on frantic patient calls and, in one instance, calming and reassuring a patient from rural Georgia by explaining things in a way she could understand.”
The Bridgewater native also had the opportunity to sit down with a physician, who was doing a fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control’s [CDC] Epidemic Intelligence Service. “Dr. [Laura] Epstein explained that, on a smaller scale, I was experiencing how people panic in situations like this and learning how to handle public health crises,” says Le. “She gave me an understanding of the challenges the CDC faces each day, containing viruses and assuring the safety of Americans.”
When not tending to crisis-related tasks, Le, who was one of 30 undergraduate and graduate students selected from among 400 applicants for the internship, implemented correspondence centers in the orthopedic, spine, and otolaryngology departments, teaching Emory physicians to use the system. In the patient access department, he created an online content database that streamlined the process call center agents use when scheduling patients.
Le’s experience with a public health crisis cemented his interest in working in healthcare administration. After completing a master’s in the field, he plans a career at a teaching hospital, where he “can have the most impact on people’s lives.”
—Susan Cousins Breen