Jessica August

While the pandemic continues to wreak havoc among so many worldwide, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) alumna Jessica August, MD, views these uncertain times as a collegiate opportunity to embrace every ounce of hope and tackle each challenge with a firm sense of purpose and support healthcare workers. “We need to band together and show what we’re made of,” said the infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Hospital in California who consults with colleagues during bedside visits. “As healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and environmental services—we need to rise to the occasion doing something that we love to do.”

Jessica has been in lockstep with her colleagues since the start of the pandemic and, like others, fears the ramifications of a quick re-entry into socialization. She prefers to re-open in tiers and encourages those with underlying conditions to continue shelter-in-place orders. “We need to ensure that we don’t let everything open up like gangbusters right at the beginning. We need to take it very slow, knowing there will still be fear. The hope is that people have learned” ways to limit the ongoing spread by practicing social etiquette—social distancing, aggressive hand washing and wearing a mask. “We have to continue those measures as we transition back into some sort of normal.”

She’s also quick to point out the importance of knowing the truth about COVID-19. “There’s a misconception that it is instantaneously spread. There is so much fear regarding this virus. People think if you happen to walk by someone who happens to be shedding the virus that you’ll get it. You need sustained contact with someone who’s infected with the virus and transfer their respiratory droplets into your mucus membranes. Walking by someone or seeing someone at the grocery store is not going to give you the virus. If we can keep working together by staying apart, we truly have a fighting chance against this.”

Health Expertise: Always Be Prepared

Though she can’t predict when areas will reach their “peak” because of the multitude of factors that must be considered, Jessica said it’s best to be prepared on all fronts including a longer-than-expected duration and the inevitable surge once restrictions relax. “I think we’re still looking at weeks to months until we start to feel this calm down. There’s a potential for more waves and peaks and valleys through the beginning of next year.”

Jessica said coronaviruses are not new, as evidenced with common colds and the more severe examples of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). “The human population has not had exposure to this particular strain before and no none has any form of immunity to it or a vaccine against it.” Regarding SARS and MERS, she said, “although they’re in the same family, they were relatively restricted to a smaller area and never really got outside of the places where they originated. They were a preview of what’s going on now. They didn’t have the capacity to spread like this one does. This one has clearly transcended every boundary that was originally thought.”  

While Jessica’s role is clinical, serving as a consultant on how to care for infected patients, she is familiar with the process of creating a vaccine. She explained there are several phases to the development to ensure it is safe for administration and effective in bringing immunity, which is why it usually takes 12-18 months for completion. “It has to be done in a scientific way to determine all of these things.”

Health Expertise: Finding the Medical Connection

Thinking back, Jessica said she’s always been compelled to become a doctor and help others. Completing her residency and fellowship at the University of Arizona, she chose to specialize in infectious disease because of the connection between disease pathology and the human body. “You can truly look at the disease process under a microscope in real time.” Jessica explained the fascination with studying biopsied tissue and growing the pathogen to see what’s causing it, adding that her lifelong goal and passion is to use infectious disease as the pathology to care for patients living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In the meantime, Jessica and her husband Anthony Saenz, a fellow RUSM graduate and family medicine physician at the same facility, try to shuffle care for their young daughter so they can continue working on the front lines. Luckily, they have found support in their new northern California community, which has recently survived catastrophic wildfires. “They’ve been through a lot together and they’re quite bonded. But they’ve included us in this—people have stepped up to help.”

Relying on her neighborhood family has allowed Jessica to repay the favor in the hospital. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is something that is life changing and truly world changing in medicine. We will find ways to take care of this and we will have methods for this to get better as time goes along. I don’t think any of us will ever have the same thought process toward illness again. This is something we have not really seen in our generations or in the last century. Everything has changed both inside and outside of healthcare. In spite of all the negativity, we have to try and find a positive way for us all to be on the same team and not forget that. We need to work together—that’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”

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In 2020, 91% of RUSM students passed the initial step of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) on the first attempt. And in 2022-2023, results show yet another strong year for RUSM with a 98% first-time residency attainment rate* thus far. Located on the island of Barbados and with a network of more than 15,000 alumni, RUSM is one of the largest providers of doctors for the U.S. healthcare system. RUSM graduates practice in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico.

*First time residency attainment rate is the percent of students attaining a 2023-24 residency position out of all graduates or expected graduates in 2022-23 who were active applicants in the 2023 NRMP match or who attained a residency position outside the NRMP match.