Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear personal protective equipment.
Isabelle Molina, a sophomore psychology major in the pre-med track at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is a warrior in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Molina, 19, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has known that she wanted to be in some kind of health care field since her childhood, and completed study for a medical assistant certification while still in high school.
She knew that she needed to earn money while taking classes at IUP. She applied to several health care sites, including the Indiana MedExpress. They liked her background and offered her a job, and she began work there in October.
She continued to work at the Indiana facility until IUP transitioned to distance education in March and students were asked to leave the residence halls. When she went home, she was offered a job at her hometown MedExpress in Lebanon—which had transitioned to including seeing patients who may be COVID-19 positive.
“At first, I did think about being at a non-COVID-19 center—I knew I could work for another MedExpress near my hometown that wasn’t seeing patients who wanted COVID-19 testing,” Molina said. “But I decided that I wanted to be a part of this and really try to help during this pandemic.”
In the first two weeks after returning home in March, while balancing her IUP classes via distance education, Molina worked almost 80 hours. It was exhausting, but rewarding, she said.
“At first, I worried about what would happen if I got infected with COVID-19. Now, I’ve gotten a bit numb to it. This is our job, we are working 12-hour shifts, this is life now. We have grown very close as a team, and we watch out for one another.
“No one is really afraid now; we’ve gotten used to it after doing it so long,” she said. “I know that I am doing everything I can to protect myself. We follow a very specific protocol. We do temperature checks on each other, we are gowned and masked, we do intake by telephone, and then meet patients in the parking lot with gowns and masks. There are three exam rooms designated for COVID-19-suspected patients, and we have very strict cleaning procedures specifically for those rooms.”
Molina, daughter of Giovanna Molina and a 2019 graduate of Lebanon High School, is a first-generation college student. She initially chose IUP as an option because of its partnerships with several colleges of osteopathic medicine, which is the path she plans to follow in her pursuit of becoming a physician.
“I was accepted to a lot of schools, but when I compared the scholarships, and the fact that IUP has partnerships with doctor of osteopathic medicine programs, IUP was definitely the right fit.”
Most recently, Molina refined her career focus to pediatrician—and more specifically, a pediatric surgeon.
Molina remembers that her mother, who worked in a doctor’s office for more than 15 years, took her to work during “take your daughter to work days,” and even got Molina a set of child-sized scrubs.
“Mom kept a list of what I told her I wanted to be when I was growing up, and pediatrician kept coming to the top of the list. When I took career quizzes in high school, the results always kept coming up health care fields. I thought about pathology and forensic science, but I decided I wanted to work to prevent illness and death.
“I was sick a lot growing up, so doctors and hospitals were part of my world,” she said. “I had great doctors, and I wanted to pay that forward—to be a great doctor for some other kid. My doctor’s office had a wall of photos of children as infants and then as high school graduates. I want to do that—care for children as they grow up. I really like working with children.”
She knows that the hours and the work of a pediatric surgeon won’t be easy, but she’s prepared for that.
“I know I wouldn’t be happy with an 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. job. I know there will be sad times when you can’t save a child; but I’m focusing on the idea of saving the child no one thought would survive, and then seeing them complete milestones like high school graduation, weddings, and then go on to have children of their own.
“Health care is my passion,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself in any other profession.”
Molina credits her IUP faculty with being very accommodating about her work schedule at MedExpress, understanding the importance of the work and how it can help her to achieve her future goals. “My classmates also were great about reaching out, offering notes if I had to miss a class,” she said.
She’ll continue to work at her Lebanon MedExpress throughout the summer and return to the Indiana MedExpress when she’s back on campus in the fall.
“It’s really good experience, and it’s definitely made me know that I’m on the right career path,” she said.
“There are easier jobs, for sure. It’s been hard, but it’s been very rewarding. I know that I’m making a difference.”