Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice-chancellor at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, spoke at the first of three Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College convocations on Sept. 22.
Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the honors college, and Chancellor Glenn Boyce hosted the convocation where Woodward discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and how UMMC has handled it on a state level.
“I have never been more proud to be in the position I’m in than in these last six months,”
Woodward said the medical center has been able to accomplish multiple feats in recent months, including making their own ‘in-house’ COVID-19 test, models of ventilators and pioneer research in the state of Mississippi. Since UMMC is the only university-operated medical center in the state, Woodward said she felt responsible when it came to the development of a plan for how Mississippi would handle the pandemic.
“The thought process is: ‘If we don’t do it, will it happen in Mississippi?’” Woodward said.
When discussing the research that led to the development of an in-house COVID-19 test, Woodward specifically mentioned the pathology team and how quickly they were able to develop a test. She said the process would normally take eight to nine months.
“Our research and pathology team really showed up, you would not expect teams like these to save the day,” Woodward said.
The medical center has been in contact with national organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and the Mississippi Department of Health about the novel coronavirus since January, and Woodard said the medical center has had certain programs and departments preparing since then.
The center started its own Incident Command Center and also developed regular communication with different medical centers across the United States.
When discussing the early stages of the pandemic, Woodward said that there were many unanswered questions about what would happen if the virus spread to the United States. Despite this, she emphasized how prepared she wanted to be.
“If people say we overreacted, we will have been successful,” Woodward said.
After the medical center began communicating with national health organizations, it was involved in a total of 19 clinical trials with other medical professionals as the virus reached the United States.
“We are very proud of that, you can’t be involved in something like this without the proper research,” Woodward said.
Woodward also commended the students at the medical center who wanted to help when the United States began to feel the impact of the epidemic in March. Students from across programs signed up to assist at the hospital in a variety of ways.
“The attitude here has been ‘What can I do?’” Woodward said.
Woodward said that students have been doing everything from helping to administer tests across the state or small jobs around the medical center for the staff in Jackson. Because of the outpour of support and willingness to adapt shown by students, the center gave class credit to those who assisted in certain ways.
“We had an overwhelming response with students who wanted to help, so we created a credit where students who wanted to be in the field could get credit as a part of their educational experience, ” Woodward said.
She also discussed how hard the center has worked in attempting to increase the number of graduating students. As of 2019, 853 received degrees in health sciences.
“We all have been working really hard to increase the class size so the person sitting in my chair in 20 years is not singing the same song,” Woodward said.
Woodward encouraged students to pursue medicine, and said that they are needed now more than ever.
“In light of a pandemic, young people may think about if it’s worth the risk, but there has never been a better time for you to be in medicine,” Woodward said.