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Voices of HMSOM: The Doctoral Student who is a Nurse

Earning a medical degree is a tall order, by all accounts. Earning it in an accelerated three years at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine is as rigorous as it comes, as well.

But if you’re Samantha Sherman, you also work toward your degree while working as a nurse – and you even pull extra nursing shifts caring for the infected amid a viral pandemic.

Sherman started her medical education at the medical school in 2018, and is on track to graduate in the spring, with her subsequent anesthesiology residency plan aimed at Hackensack University Medical Center.

For now, she is burning the candle at both ends, six days a week, as she completes a clerkship in the Hackensack Meridian Health system – while helping to heal in her normal “telestroke” unit Monmouth Medical Center – which is now functioning as a COVID-19 ward.

It’s been eye-opening, she recalls, over the course of two separate “waves” of COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s an experience in my career like I’ve never seen before,” she said, from a vantage point of five years of nursing.

Sherman graduated from Brick High School, and got her undergraduate degree from George Washington University. Her first degree was in chemistry. Along the way, she worked as a medical receptionist before earning her nursing degree.

But there were always further ambitions, she recalls now.

“Pursuing an M.D. degree has always been the goal,” she said.

“Sam is already an accomplished young woman – and her medical career is going to benefit from all the experience she has already accumulated both in nursing and during her time here at our school,” said Bonita Stanton, M.D., the founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

While she has been working hard toward that medical degree, she kept her hand in with nursing, assisting her traditional telestroke unit at Monmouth on weekends and when she could find the time between the demanding rigors of medical school.

Then COVID-19 struck. Suddenly, with most academic pursuits frozen for a matter of months, Sherman had plenty of time suddenly free. At the same time, her nursing unit gradually was shifted over to a COVID-19-only unit due to the influx of patients back in the spring. During one of the most intense periods, the nurses were working in teams to care for patients, due to the overwhelming duties and demands.

Even as the summer came, and the pandemic spread slowed, she kept the connection with the telestroke unit.

“I’m hoping I can still help out a little bit,” she said at the time.

The HMSOM curriculum found a way to keep students on track, by condensing the clerkships, keeping students pretty much right on track.

Now, with the winter rapidly approaching, and the cases increasing, she happens to find the rotation of her final clinical clerkship leaves her weekends off. But instead of spending more time playing classical piano, hiking with her two dogs, or snowboarding, that probably instead means more time helping the COVID-19 patients on her nursing shift.

But there is hope, even as the case load grows, she said. For instance, simple measures like “proning” – leaving the patients face down to assist breathing – has given many more patients a fighting chance against the disease.

“It’s starting to feel a lot more like March. But this time there’s a little more preparedness,” she said. “This time there’s a little bit more structure.”