Dr. Ellen Larson: Life as Doctor During COVID-19

Dr. Ellen Larson: Life as Doctor During COVID-19

Dr. Ellen Larson, Colgate physician and alumna, jokes that she worked at Colgate for 15 minutes before COVID-19. Since joining Colgate’s staff in November 2019, Larson worked as a family physician at Bassett Healthcare for over 18 years. Shortly after her transition to Colgate, the pandemic upended the traditional University Student Health Services routine. 

“Prior to COVID-19, my job was almost exclusively clinical, [which entails] taking care of patients,” Larson said. “Since COVID-19, a great deal of my time has been diverted to immersive learning about COVID, clinical care of patients with COVID-19, testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, vaccines and working as a member of cross campus teams to share that learning and to plan every aspect of the work that goes on at the University. The testing initiatives, as well as the contact tracing and quarantine and isolation planning have been a big focus for me as well as creating pathways of care within the student health center that keep staff and students safe and allow us to continue to provide access to care for students.” 

With a number of responsibilities on her plate and a constant influx of new information, Larson says finding balance has been the most difficult part of her job. 

“It feels like every two hours there is new data or a new question or problem to solve,” Larson said. ‘It is physically and emotionally exhausting at times, and it has felt like a year long sprint. I could literally be reading and working 24 hours a day and seven days a week and not have all of the answers I have wanted to find or have created the new programs I want to create. For me, it has to be a conscious effort to turn things off, spend time with my family, read and rest. I have learned through experience that I cannot bring my best if I don’t create that space to recharge.” 

Since joining Colgate as a physician, Larson has assumed several responsibilities, particularly focused on COVID-19 measures. According to Larson, in addition to contact tracing, developing testing protocols and procedures for the University and vaccine planning, consistent education is a cornerstone of her position. 

“My personal responsibilities regarding COVID-19 have included ongoing learning and education about the virus, the symptoms it causes, how it is transmitted, how to manage and treat it, how to protect healthcare workers and other employees in their daily work functions … I have led the development of the workflows in the Student Health Center both around COVID-related care and how we continue to care for students with non-COVID-related needs,” Larson said. “I have also been a member of the Emergency Operations Center and the Health Analytics team and in those roles have worked collaboratively with employees from all aspects of campus to help build plans and systems to keep students as well as employees and the Hamilton community safe through the pandemic.”

According to Larson, every workday is unique. She joked that the plan she starts her day with is thrown out the window by 8 a.m. once a new problem or question becomes a priority. However, her routine has become more consistent over the course of the past year. 

“Early on, things were literally changing by the hour and that still happens sometimes,” Larson said. “Most mornings are spent in pandemic-related work: following up on test results, providing support to staff that are working with students in quarantine and isolation and working with the contact tracing team … Most afternoons I have been able to get back to seeing patients again. Most evenings are spent reading and learning and researching both pandemic-related information as well as an ongoing effort to understand what we at student health can do to better support all students for non-pandemic needs as well.”

For Larson, working with students is a silver lining amid an unpredictable COVID-19 climate. Through getting to know students and their experiences, Larson’s approach to providing care evolves. 

“I have discovered that I learn from people’s stories and really enjoy hearing those stories,” Larson said. “Every person I meet has a story to share and that contributes to my growth and my understanding of the world and shapes how I care for them as a patient and think about how we provide care at Student Health. I also enjoy working with an unbelievably dedicated and hardworking student health center staff. This is a great team and that helps to make every day a better day.”