Bridging the Divide: How Millennial and Founder of @MedExplained2You Conquered the Medical Information Gap and Physician Assistant Training During COVID-19

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By: Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ

The story below is part of YMyHealth’s COVID-19 Stories from the Field series. We will continue to share personal stories from millennials who are essential workers, caregivers, and those who are close to them, as long as the pandemic continues.

Nicholas Romano, PA, has always wanted to be where the action is.

Initially inspired by his 9th grade anatomy teacher who had a side gig as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), he got certified to be an EMT himself at just the age of 16. While working on the ambulance was super cool, he quickly learned that it left him with a ton of cliff hangers.

“I never got to see what ended up happening to the people I would take to the hospital,” Romano said. “I didn’t know how they got treated, what their final diagnosis was, and what their overall outcome was. I wanted more.”

So, he decided to train to become a physician assistant specializing in urgent care and emergency medicine. It’s a path where the cliff hangers have followed, the now 24-year-old, as just three months before he was about to start providing health care to real patients in a clinical setting the COVID-19 Pandemic hit.

Nicholas Romano with his mom after receiving his first white coat in his Physician Assistant Program ceremony.

The result: his entire physician assistant program for the remainder of his classroom learning got moved from in person to online—even the labs. It made trying to learn hands-on procedures, like inserting a chest tube or doing a needle compression of a lung, from an online video, especially difficult for him.

“I actually inserted my first needle into a teddy bear to practice! Definitely different from using a mannequin,” Romano said. 

And that was just the beginning of the challenges. As Romano’s long-anticipated start to his training with real patients was in the state of Florida—a place well known for its high Coronavirus case numbers and highly politicized opposition to coronavirus vaccines.

A Challenging State of the Country and Mind

By the time he completed his first month of clinical work on July 1, 2020, Florida was averaging 8,215 new Coronavirus cases a week, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

“At first, it was extremely frustrating because I felt like Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis didn’t care about healthcare workers. All he cared about was keeping businesses open and keeping money flowing, no matter how overrun our hospitals and clinics got,” Romano said. “However, my view has changed with time.”

Now with the vaccine, and having personally seen how effective it is against serious COVID-19 illness, Romano is okay with Florida remaining open. Although, he still wishes vaccines were mandated across the state.  

Now a practicing Physician Assistant in South Carolina, Nicholas Romano received his degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

As vaccines have provided Florida and the nation’s public with a new means of defense against the virus, the recognition of healthcare workers’ stress and the importance of their mental well-being is leading to new ways of supporting staff. But much like vaccine acceptance, change takes time.

“Before, I think they were more prone to telling us just to get over it or work harder. Now, I think no one can deny the amount of stress that all healthcare workers have had to deal it,” says Romano. “I have found supervisors to be more understanding when people say they are stressed out, burnt out, or need a break.”

Other than this welcomed change, the sad truth is he hasn’t noticed major changes in the emotional support services offered to him. In fact, in his new job in South Carolina, he does not know if there are any offered at all.

“All deaths are sad. Some are preventable others aren’t, but we don’t really dwell on it too much,” says Romano works 12-hour shifts with some of the country’s sickest patients. “You can’t let it get to you or you’ll never be able to keep seeing patients. It can be tough, but this is the job we signed up for.”

Adapting and the Millennial Advantage

As working in a pandemic is all Romano has experienced in his clinical work life, he has come to the realization that we have vastly missed the boat on herd immunity, so COVID-19 will not be disappearing any time soon.

“I wish I had gotten to experience being a provider before COVID, but COVID life is all that I know,” says the Physician Assistant. “The best thing you can do to protect yourself is get vaccinated and don’t believe everything you hear without doing your best to validate the information. COVID-19 is a part of our lives now and we must adapt.”

Nicholas Romano doing one of his favorite things, traveling. Here he is on the coast of Portugal about thirty minutes west and north of Lisbon.

Being a millennial gives Romano an advantage when it comes to being more adaptable and flexible in this constantly changing environment, he believes.

“Whereas older generations may be stuck in their ways and not ready to change, I’m ready for anything,” Romano said. “I don’t mind learning new procedures or new guidelines constantly. I love working in urgent care and emergency medicine, and being there for any problem, no matter what it is.”

But there is one problem he’ll never adapt to or take in stride. It’s the daily misinformation about COVID-19 and other areas of health that he encounters. In fact, misinformation and resistance to new knowledge have been his biggest challenges throughout the pandemic.

“It has driven me crazy (and still continues to do so) how fast misinformation spreads and how many people believe it. The worst part is that most people won’t listen to anything that opposes their beliefs,” Romano said.

Adding that:

Even if I provide scientific literature to prove why a certain thing they believe isn’t true, they don’t care or change. It can be very disheartening when all you want to do is help someone improve their health, but they refuse to listen to you.

Nicholas Romano, PA-C

Fortunately, he has used his knowledge and millennial sense of creativity to drive better understanding amongst the very types of people he treats every day.

Explaining Medicine to the Public

After witnessing how big of a disconnect there was between medical professionals and the general public, Romano created @medexplained2you on Instagram and TikTok. His goal: to make medicine and health interesting and understandable for everyday people, not just those already in the medical field.

“So many times, I have watched doctors, Physician Assistants, and Nurse Practitioners prescribe medications and make diagnoses without truly explaining what they are doing. I then saw patients not being compliant with treatment regimens – not because they were bad people but because they just didn’t understand their diagnosis or their treatment,” Romano said.  

MedExplained2You has evolved into him tackling various disorders and explaining them in plain language. He also gives answers to common questions that relate to medicine and other ‘mysteries’ that are medical in nature.

Nicholas Romano on an awesome hike in Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

“For example, many people were surprised to find out that one of the main reasons many beaches do not allow dogs is because dogs are a vector for parasites that can infect people in their feet!” he explains.

Another example covered is how the sun can make you sneeze.

Romano loves tackling different topics each week, and he think his followers have a great time learning—it’s a win-win.

If there is anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught him, it’s that life is uncertain and that a little creativity in helping people can go a long way.

 “The pandemic has made me realize that no day is guaranteed. You have no idea what is coming tomorrow. Every day, all I can do is give the best care I possibly can and hope for a better day the next day,” Romano said.

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