One Front-line Physician’s Journey through the COVID-19 Pandemic
Jamila Goldsmith, MD
As the calendar flips to the final weeks of her pregnancy, Dr. Jamila Goldsmith, Associate Medical Director of the emergency department at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins, Georgia, spends time reflecting on the dramatic changes from the recent past.
“We’re excited! It’s my first baby,” she effuses. She is following advice from her OB-GYN and trying to rest up before the new addition to the family. “Time for me to start slowing down. I feel that I’m a strong and a resilient person, but your body will tell you otherwise. I’m pregnant. I keep that in my mind, that it’s not just me.”
That other little person involved certainly moved to the forefront of her mind when making her decision whether or not to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Goldsmith was unsure about her options for vaccination at that second trimester of her pregnancy.
“I started talking to colleagues and reading whatever information I could on the vaccine. I debated the time I had left in pregnancy with the large number of patients coming through.… Some staff members were getting infected and I wondered ‘which patient is going to give me COVID-19?’ I discussed it with my OB, as well as with other friends who are OB-GYNs.”
SHOT OF REALITY
The COVID-19 reality hit her early on, she says. “In January 2020, I was traveling. My soon-to-be-husband is from Kenya and we had planned a trip to go visit his family. We were in Nairobi. I remember looking at the TV and seeing what was happening in China —putting up hospitals overnight, treating a massive amount of people.… I said to him, ‘If this hits the United States, I will be one of the first people to see it.’”
Dr. Goldsmith initially drew comfort from considering medical emergency management in the recent past. “Ebola is one of the things I’ve dealt with as a physician, trying to figure out how to treat and triage patients,” she recalls. “That’s the only other crisis I’d worked through and we pretty much maintained control of that in the U.S. So, in the back of my mind I hoped we’d have an understanding and be able to control it if it ever did get here.’”
In early March 2020, her travels took her to visit relatives in Australia. Her view of the pandemic quickly changed. “Tom Hanks came down with it [in Australia] while I was there,” she reports. “The next thing I knew, the NBA shut down, and all the stories from Italy started coming out. I went into a panic while I was there, wondering what would happen when I got back to the U.S., and as a first responder to this, how would it affect my family.”
Upon returning to Atlanta, she quickly turned around the next day to fly to Chicago on an assignment. Her mother dropped her off at a silent, empty airport. “There were no other cars there, you could roll a bowling ball through the Atlanta airport. I had never seen it that way—my mother and I looked at each other and we were in tears. We could not believe how things had changed overnight.”
SHOT OF FOCUS
Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Goldsmith had been able to maintain a desired career-life balance. Now, she finds the equilibrium more elusive. “It’s different in the sense that those who are not in medicine are more aware of what’s taking place, so we’re kind of bringing it all home which changes the dynamics.”
The work itself shifted, too. “Volumes decreased. People were scared to come to the hospital and that impacted me as a contractor with assignments drying up. Also, our approach seemed to change weekly to address [COVID-19]. It was different for me as an emergency physician because we always think in algorithms—if this happens, then we do this, etc. But, when this hit, we didn’t know. Part of being an ER doctor is making people feel confident that we’ve given them the right diagnosis and prognosis. With this we couldn’t necessarily do that.”
SHOT OF HOPE
She relives the confusion and frustration of that critical time, wishing people would listen to safety directives that could slow the spread and questioning the right ways to keep herself safe. “I [first] saw COVID-19 patients and had to figure out my routine —shower at work before I left, shower again at home, everyone was nervous,” she remembers. “I might be treating a patient that came in as a trauma and needed interventions and then learn he’s COVID-19 positive.”
Dr. Goldsmith describes watching the ER hold the overflow of COVID-19 patients when the hospital ran out of beds and considers the longer-term influences the crisis may have on her practices. “It’s definitely changed the way I approach my job now. I don’t think we can ever get back to a point where we don’t think more about how to keep ourselves safe. We’ll probably always wear N95s or full PPE to have extra protection.”
When the first vaccines were approved, they presented yet another, more definitive level of protection, and healthcare workers around the country saw a glimmer of hope. So at the end of December, she chose to roll up her sleeve and get that first shot.
“If you get COVID-19 during pregnancy, you have a long road. There are so many things that can happen, like throwing blood clots to your placenta, stillbirth, premature birth. In so many ways the benefits outweigh the risks,” she confirms, “so I did it and I don’t regret it. I made the decision for myself, for my family, and for my community; I made the decision and hopefully I can be an example to others.”
SHOT OF LOGIC
Now fully-vaccinated and feeling more confident about her own safety, Dr. Goldsmith advocates for others to take a logical approach to making the decision for themselves.
“We have to take care of each other, we have to consider each other,” she contends. “It’s not about anyone trying to impart their beliefs on someone or anything else like that. It’s science. It’s purely science. Now that we have the vaccine, we have another added layer of protection, we need to get vaccinated.”
She knows she speaks toward a skeptical group as she continues, “I am a Black female physician; I know our community is hesitant because of things that have happened in the past. But, I’ve gotten it. I trust medicine. We’re the most vulnerable population. We should get those vaccinations in our arms as soon as we can. I want to encourage all people from all communities, but especially Black and Brown communities, to get vaccinated, to take care of ourselves, and to take care of others.”
She plans to keep talking about her experiences and often fields questions from friends and family. “On a personal level I’ve been able to change some minds. When I posted myself [on social media] getting vaccinated, I had people say, ‘I got vaccinated because I saw you got vaccinated.’ That’s the point. We absolutely have to be in this together in order to put it behind us.”
Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dr. Jamila Goldsmith earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University and then came to the metro Atlanta area for a post-baccalaureate, pre-medical program at Agnes Scott College.
Dr. Goldsmith completed a general surgery residency at Michigan State University and an emergency medicine residency at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She started her own company, Goldsmith Medical Services, and practiced mainly as a traveling physician since completing residency in 2016.
Dr. Goldsmith currently serves as Associate Medical Director for the emergency department at Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins, Georgia. She lives in Hampton, Georgia, where she and her fiancé are expecting to welcome their first child in May 2021.