Health Science students Andriene Sterlington (MSW), Eastern Washington University School of Social Work and Diana Kang (PharmD), Washington State University’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences share their academic backgrounds, learning experiences, and professional goals for the future. They describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their learning experiences and various strategies they apply to find joy in their respective learning environment.
“Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Well-being" is a podcast resource developed by a team of interprofessional education researchers from Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane. They’re promoting well-being among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The Interprofessional Education Research team wishes to thank the following individuals for their invaluable contributions to this project:
• Dr. Barb Richardson, nurse, educator, and interprofessional champion;
• Cameron Cupp, creator of the “Finding Joy” musical score and current enrollee at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine;
• Washington State University staff from Marketing and Communications, Financial Services, and the Collaboration for Interprofessional Health Education Research and Scholarship; and
• Claire Martin-Tellis, Executive Producer, and Solen Aref, student intern, who developed the first five episodes of the “Finding Joy” podcast.
This episode of “Finding Joy” was produced by Doug Nadvornick, Program Director, Spokane Public Radio.
If you would like to reach out, please contact our team by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org We also encourage you to visit our podcast blog as well as our team's website at: https://opioideducation.wsu.edu/about/.
This is “Finding Joy: The Health Care Professional’s Journey to Wellness and Resiliency.” It’s a podcast resource developed by the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team at Washington State University. The goal is to promote wellness among students, faculty, and healthcare professionals during challenging times. Funding is provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
I’m Doug Nadvornick.
Earlier in this podcast series, we talked with two Washington State University medical students about learning during a pandemic. Today, two health sciences students in other programs tell us about their modified academic journey.
Andriene Sterlington: “I have a bachelor’s degree in social work, but I went back to school as an adult and so I’ve been dancing around my master’s degree for several years. I should be way done, but I’m not.”
We’ll talk with Andriene [and-REEN] Sterlington from Eastern Washington University and Diana Kang from WSU’s pharmacy program.
Diana Kang: “I don’t know where I want to go with that. I just know I want to be in the field of pharmacy. I feel like as I continue to learn more and more each day, my passion or my direction changes.”
Stay with us as they tell us about how they find joy.
Let’s start with Andriene Sterlington.
Andriene Sterlington: “My professional background includes a life of health care. I worked in health care, women’s health care, for 15 years prior to going back to school 10 years ago. I thought that I would go back to school to become a physician’s assistant. In doing so I began volunteering at hospice, doing some hospice work in Tacoma at Franciscan Hospice, and I really fell in love with care of the whole person or more of the walking alongside people. I’m comfortable in the health care realm but I really like just journeying with people, being a part of their journey more from a social work point of view. Hospice and palliative care gives you really an opportunity to do spiritual care is the word I would use for it and I love that. I switched gears, which is much better for me because I’m not a very good student, school is very hard…I’m a good student, but it’s hard. Science is hard for me. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in social work and, in 2016 was working for Providence in west Seattle, and became really unsure if I wanted to pursue spiritual care. I took a class in Spokane, spiritual care in social work, and it was amazing. Finally, I decided to go back and actually the impetus for me going back was a little bit of Covid because I ended up taking care of my mother. We moved and my mom, who’s 95, came to live with me. So I applied and here I am.”
Doug: “What does the degree in social work do for you, that you didn’t already know?”
Andriene Sterlington: “It gives me street cred. As a bachelor’s student and because I came with experience, I’ve had some very unique life experiences and I believe that everything’s been pointing me in this direction, but you need that piece of paper and I have more respect for that now. Before it seemed sort of frustrating, but it’s really important.”
Doug: “How are you doing in this pandemic-related time?”
Andriene Sterlington: “Oooh, that’s a really good question. Today I’m not overwhelmed because we are on break, so that helps. For me the timing was really right and the pace is really good and the support from Eastern is excellent. I sense that it is overwhelming for both the faculty and the students. I took some really good advice this summer from a friend who had already been through the program and I doubled up on electives and it was overwhelming and hard, but I’m so grateful that I did because I feel like the pace has been really good. What’s been overwhelming is Covid, the connectivity. Everything is different. It has had a tremendous impact on everybody. You can see it and feel it and sense it in the classroom and online.”
Doug: “So how have you adjusted to it to make it work for you? The whole notion of studying with people without spending any time in their presence.”
Andriene Sterlington: “Yeah, it’s really hard. I feel really old and I’m not old. I don’t mean it that way. Creating connection has been challenging for me. It’s just the nature of social work. It’s so important to have that support. I do a lot of self-talk. I do a lot of walking, spending time with my dog. I do all of the things to take care of myself. I keep telling myself that it’s going to be ok because sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be, so I just keep showing up. There are times it has felt very lonely, but I think we’re all sort of feeling that but I certainly have felt like an outsider in this particular program.”
Doug: “I think about the, I’m not sure irony is the right word, the fact that you’re in a social work program, which I guess implies face-to-face, close proximity to people, and you’re not able to have that because of this disease. It feels a little weird to me.”
Andriene Sterlington: “I chose social work. I didn’t have to. It was something that I intentionally chose to do and part of the reason that I think that I’m drawn to this work is because I really enjoy people and being with people and that connectivity, so it’s very strange to be in a position and learning about things that are all about building rapport and connectivity and trust and not having, it’s just very odd. We don’t have the opportunities that we had to do face-to-face work together.”
We’re talking with Andriene Sterlington, a candidate for a master’s degree in Eastern Washington University’s social work program. After she earns her diploma, she hopes to work in the field of palliative care. But how do you deliver care and ease the suffering of people with serious disease at a time when we worry about our physical proximity to others?
Andriene Sterlington: “I think there will be an opportunity for some creativity in terms of how we deliver care to each other and I think that can be ok and we have to because we can’t just abandon caring for each other, we just can’t.”
Doug: “The title of the podcast is Finding Joy. How do you find joy in your schooling, in carrying on in life these days, trying to get through it and getting on to the next part of your life?”
Andriene Sterlington: “I find joy in my relationships. I adore the students. I have kids the same age and I love being around other people so I really find joy in interacting with others. I find joy in learning and one of the things that has helped me be more successful is letting go of performance, letting go of the pressure that I put on myself. I’m going to take every opportunity I can to participate and to learn. I find joy in reading and cooking and school. It’s really showing up and participating in class. I’m sure I annoy everybody because I’m always raising my hand.”
Andriene Sterlington will finish her master’s in social work this spring. You’re listening to the Finding Joy podcast.
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We talk now with Diana Kang from the pharmacy program at Washington State. She’s a native of Los Angeles who now lives in Spokane.
Doug: “What is it about pharmacy that got you excited and interested?”
Diana Kang: “My mom, actually, was diagnosed with cancer when I was younger. I was pretty young and I didn’t understand to the full extent how cancer can really turn someone’s life around. After she had made it through that, it still always bothered me that knowing she had to go through that and wishing that there was more I could have done. When I was actually applying for pharmacy school for fall semester before, my mom got diagnosed with cancer again. It was a different kind and so that was my affirmation that this is what I need to do. I need to go into this field now. I can’t wait any longer. I started applying to different schools and programs. I just loved the program here at Washington State and everyone I met when I came here to interview and fell in love.”
Doug: “Most of your time in pharmacy school, for better or worse, has been in a pandemic situation. Do you remember what it was like when you went from life is normal to student who had these restrictions?”
Diana Kang: “Yeah, it’s so strange because when I first started pharmacy school, it was in person, it was pre-pandemic, and I absolutely loved it. I had the time of my life. I met some amazing people and I never thought that I would enjoy school as much as I did. It didn’t feel like school. It just kind of felt like a place to hang out with friends and you just happened to be studying for exams or going to classes together, but it never felt overwhelming or stressful. And then the pandemic hit and, I’m sure like many, we just thought probably it’s just going to last the rest of this academic year. It’s fine. We’ll be ok. We’ll see each other again starting second year. Second year comes around and we’re still in this pandemic. That’s kind of when I realized this is not taking a good toll on my mental health and it’s kind of stressing me out, that I have to be indoors so much and study from home where’s there’s all these distractions and little motivation. Every time I go to school I’m always very motivated to learn and study, so having to do that from home was very difficult. Now that we’re back in person, with taking the right precautions, it doesn’t bring me that same happiness that it did the first year because I feel like I’m being restricted. I can’t enjoy to the fullest extent. I would say that’s kind of where I’m at. It was the highs, a low and then kind of a medium, I guess.”
Doug: “Human beings are a pretty adaptable species. How have you adapted to make it better?”
Diana Kang: “I try to not focus on the negative. Obviously the pandemic is just so huge that you can’t avoid it, but rather than looking at that one big negative picture, I look at the smaller pictures and see those as positives. So there’s just little things that kind of make me happy. For example, I’m so lucky that I get to be at home. I have my pets or I get to wear my PJ pants. So little things like that I try to spin into positives, rather than dwelling on that negative.”
Doug: “How well have you been able to maintain your friendships?”
Diana Kang: “I was able to maintain my friendships really well. I had a very small friends group and I think we were all just very understanding of the situation. We knew that we have to be here for each other and really support each other through this difficult time and, if someone falls, we need to help pick them up. I think I had a great friend group, a great support system and they’re still my friends to this day.”
Doug: “And what about the subject matter? Are you still as excited about the subject matter as you were when you first started?”
Diana Kang: “Yes and no. I love to learn. I’m always very eager to learn. I just think school itself is not as enjoyable because I kind of feel a little restricted. I just can’t enjoy to my fullest extent because of everything still going on. Even if we weren’t practicing safe measures for any reason I still don’t think I’d be at that place where I was the first year.”
Doug: “Have you been to go out and do any community-related work?”
Diana Kang: “Yes, absolutely. I was very involved with community service my first year. When we first went into lockdown and the first few months following that, I wasn’t able to do anything, I couldn’t even work my normal intern position, so it was a little tough not being able to have that interaction outside of pharmacy school. After a couple of months, it eventually did pass where a lot of organizations started to open their doors up for volunteering and any kind of events. Since then I’ve just been trying to go to whatever I can. The most recent event I went to was, I was working with Second Harvest. We packed some bags of beans and then assembled boxes of them so we could distribute them to the community. That was such a great, humbling experience, especially during such a tough time like now.”
Diana Kang has also joined her pharmacy student peers in giving jabs at community vaccination clinics.
Doug: “We hear a lot about health care workers being burned out. It’s a very difficult industry to be in right now. When you think about that, when you hear the stories of individual folks, how does that relate to you when you think about your future as a person who’s going to be a professional in that setting in the next year or two?”
Diana Kang: “I don’t want to sugarcoat it or lie to myself about it. Obviously it scares me knowing that I’ll be in that same position in a few months. But I think that’s the thing I’m trying to do differently is not to dwell on that negativity and worry about something that hasn’t happened. Rather than worry about the burnout that hasn’t affected me yet, I try to focus on what I’m going to be able to accomplish once I’m in that position and I think that’s my main priority, knowing that my actions are going to impact the lives of so many people. I know that I’m doing something good and I think that’s what’s most important to me.”
Doug: “The name of this podcast is called Finding Joy. Where do you find joy in your professional and personal lives?”
Diana Kang: “It sounds a little silly but I find joy in my dog. I got her as a pre-pharmacy school pet and she’s just been the best companion. She was there for me during my mom’s cancer treatments. I don’t think I would be as far along in life without her because there were some times and some days where it did sadden me to the point where it was hindering and I wouldn’t leave my house or I wouldn’t eat or talk to my friends and so getting my dog, having her force me to go outside and enjoy is what completely changed my life and what has brought me so much happiness. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy in my life. I’m able to apply that to both my professional and personal lives because if I have a bad day at work or a bad day at school, I know that the moment I come home she is waiting for me and she is so excited to see me. Seeing that is just more than enough for me. I’m a simple person.”
Diana Kang is a fourth-year pharmacy student at Washington State University. We heard earlier from Andriene Sterlington, a master’s in social work student at Eastern Washington University. We thank them for sharing their perspectives.
The Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team also wants to thank the following people for their contributions to this project:
This episode was produced by Doug Nadvornick from Spokane Public Radio.
If you are interested in sharing your perspective about wellness and resiliency as a healthcare professional or would like to reach out to the Interprofessional Opioid Curriculum team, please email to: email@example.com. You can visit the team’s website at: https://opioideducation.wsu.edu/about/.