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Q&A: CMU professor discusses COVID-19 experiences, women in academia


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For the last year, Dr. Amarilis Martin, a clinical assistant professor at Central Michigan University has been caring for and researching children with COVID-19. 

Martin completed her medical school degree in Southern California the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, she then moved to the Detroit area and completed further education in pediatrics and pediatric critical care. 

She currently holds a faculty position for CMU’s medical school teaching future doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. At this hospital, she also cares for patients, and more recently, has researched how COVID-19 affects children.

Martin is also a part of Women in Academia Valuing Equity (WAVE), advocating for women who hold academic positions. September was Women in Health Care Month so WAVE began a campaign called 'Give Her a Reason to Stay in Health Care.' The new initiative focuses on highlighting the work of women in academics and encouraging businesses to better support their female employees.

Central Michigan Life spoke with Martin about her research and experience as a physician treating critically ill children.

CM Life: Can you tell me what kind of different roles you have going on right now?

Martin: Yes, so currently, I have a faculty appointment at Central Michigan University as a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics. At the same time, I take of patients at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. As a professor, I am involved in teaching residents that come through the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. 

Could you tell me about the research you do?

We looked at the fact there were some patients who become very sick and develop problems with their hearts. So we looked at that and as time progressed, we found out that there is other issues associated with COVID-19, that pediatric patients can get strokes and they can also get pneumonia.

So my research is involved with COVID-19 and just looking at different presentations (of it) and seeing how we can best treat that.

What would you like people to know now regarding COVID-19 that isn’t necessarily being discussed as it should be?

These entities are not to take lightly because (children) can die from these things. So, we think it is important for the population to know children are affected. I will say that the majority of children will do fine, they will not get this sick. But, we’re still trying to find out which kids get sicker from COVID and which kids end up requiring ICU care, including a breathing tube and life support. It is important to note that [for] patients who have lower socioeconomic status, we have noted that there is a higher risk for them to get (severe inflammation).

Were there times during the pandemic when you felt discouraged?

Yes, you know it is very sad and I carry those patients in my heart. I can remember some of the patients that have unfortunately died, knowing that I’ve been there for them has really given me encouragement. But there have been times, especially during the pandemic, where there have been so many critically ill patients, (I’ve wondered), is there any patient out there who’s okay, and it can get to you. 

You know, all the hard work and long days is worth it just to see one patient get better. And if unfortunately, that patient doesn’t do better, at least I am encouraged that I was there for the family in such an important time of their lives. 

Can you tell me about WAVE and what the mission is?

Since before the pandemic is has been very hard for women to work in their medical or research field. Essentially, women have responsibilities at home and at work, and that can take a toll on them. So many women had lost academia.

We value equity in academia and encourage other women to stay in academia, as well as encouraging universities to support us through our career. That is (how) WAVE came about, and it’s exciting to be a part of this group.

What could universities and hospital systems do better to support women and promote equity?

In general, I think that fair pay is a big one. Sometimes women are paid less for a similar job than what men get paid and ensuring there is equality in that—also, supporting them through their childbearing experience. Maternity leave is something that (women) could be supported through, and even throughout the first year, and throughout their responsibility at home.

I think in essence it would be mentorship, sponsorship, opportunities for (women) to continue to develop their career, and equal pay. 

Can you tell me about the 'Give Her a Reason to Stay in Health Care' campaign?
During the pandemic, women were leaving academia very quickly. So this was a way to get the word out there that COVID-19 has touched many people’s lives, but at the same time, many people have also left their careers and academia in general. It is important to bring them back and encourage those that stay to stay, because their work is important. 

What keeps you in health care now?

I really think that just being there for the family at those important moments in their lives is something that brings me a lot of joy. That’s really what keeps me working in the medical field and working in pediatric critical care. Even during the pandemic when there have been very sick patients coming through, just being there for the family, being that person the family looks at, being there to encourage them and giving them just another shoulder to cry on. I think that’s very important to me to keep going. 

Could you offer any advice to young women who are pursuing academics and health professions?

First of all, I applaud them for their decision for whatever profession they decide. I encourage them to seek mentorship, to not be shy and afraid, to ask questions and try to get a good advisor who will be helpful for their career. Another thing is there will be hard days, and there will be great days. So don’t get discouraged during the hard days, and to keep pushing forward, it’s important the work that they do. And if they think that they are being treated with disrespect, or not equally to men, it is ok to speak up.

Never get tired to do good; even if that may be hard to do, the rewards are greater.