Two Years Later, MCW Reflects on COVID-19: Dr. David Nelson
On March 25, 2020, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a Safer at Home order for the entire state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With this announcement came a complete reconfiguration and adjustment of the health care system and society as a whole. With those large-scale changes, MCW faculty, staff and students all had to adjust how they worked and learned to continue to do their essential roles despite the anxiety they felt during an incredibly uncertain time.
As the two-year milestone since that fateful day approaches, we asked members of the MCW community to share how they adapted and overcame the challenges of the time. For this story, we interviewed a handful of MCW faculty, staff and students to learn more about their experiences. These interviews will be released individually as part of an ongoing series with the intention of reflecting on this unique time.
David Nelson, PhD, MS, associate professor of family and community medicine
What was your role prior to the pandemic, and how has it changed?
My role at MCW is focused on research and education. As community health researchers, we work on health issues that are important to the community. My focus is on community engagement, and almost all of that research has close connections to the community. Issues like cardiovascular health, cancer and mental health are still prevalent in our community, but there is an added layer of concern over COVID-19. For the first year of the pandemic, we did not know much about the exposure pattern, especially before the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although many of the partners are fully vaccinated, there still is caution about gathering together for meetings. The same thing holds for outreach with vulnerable community members.
Thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic, what were the most challenging aspects of your role?
We were in lockdown for the Safer at Home period, much like everyone else. We wore masks and tried to social distance and wash our hands regularly, but we also knew that needs needed to be met. For example, I lead an organization that does outreach to those who are homeless. A challenge of this type of effort is that we needed to take extreme precautions and stop having students come out with us. People who are homeless or food insecure still required supplies, and we did everything we could to meet those needs and stay safe.
What has surprised you most about this time?
Milwaukee is a beautiful city to live and work, and I loved how everyone came together. Mask Up Milwaukee was such a fantastic demonstration of people’s care and kindness for one another. It was not surprising that people came together to me, but there are many myths about Milwaukee and what people think it is versus reality. Every part of the city came together for the good of the city.
How has your team grown over the course of the pandemic?
Everyone I work with is dedicated to supporting a just and equitable community. Drs. Raymond and Kerschner regularly speak of the “MCW Family.” No matter what people do at the institution, there is a felt sense of responsibility to support this city’s health and beyond. It seems like when one person succeeds, everyone wins, and when someone is struggling, we rally around that person.
What are some key lessons that you learned during these past two years that you can take forward into the future?
- Be patient and treat people with kindness and give grace. I know that I need a lot of those from others, so I need to provide them equally.
- Lift someone. Everyone is dealing with something, and the more we can encourage one another, the better we can move forward together.
- Continually think about bringing someone else along. Our careers and life are just a link between those that have come before us and those that will go after us.