Participating in test run for COVID-19 testing
COVID-19 was life-changing for all. This is the first event that I can relate to that has been so drastic that it affected people of all ages. For me, I was a fourth-year dental student, ready to graduate and to start my career. As soon as I heard that there were nationwide and worldwide lockdowns, I was not sure what that meant. Then, I heard that the field of dentistry for the first time ever was also shutting down, and it left me apprehensive.
Administering the COVID-19 vaccine in Kodiak, Alaska and Afognak, Alaska
I wondered what is there that I can do to apply my knowledge in this time. As I contemplated, I acted upon an opportunity to be a student leader for the University of Mississippi Medical Center COVID-19 Relief Team. Being 1 of 10 students to lead this, I helped put together the COVID-19 testing site. The magnitude of the situation did not sink in until the first day of testing. As I got dressed in scrubs and wondered if we would have enough personal protective equipment, I recall looking in the mirror and seeing tears. There was so much uncertainty. The first week was the toughest because we were trying to make the process efficient, and as I stood in the hot, humid Mississippi heat, I saw people of all ages, sick and anxious to be tested. The uncertain times were evident. However, the people were appreciative. They all clapped and gave us thumbs up as they drove by.
During test run giving a thumbs-up
Volunteering at the COVID-19 testing site for nearly 8 weeks ignited a passion to give back to the community. During that time, I graduated dental school and became very intentional about choosing a new home and new job that would reflect those desires. Ultimately, I made the move to Kodiak, Alaska, where I had the opportunity to vaccinate against COVID-19 shortly after starting at my dental practice. In just months after the virus was discovered and analyzed, there was a vaccine available, and getting an opportunity to play a small part in its historic distribution helped confirm my need to practice dentistry in a community where I can help people even outside of my field. The first step was to get vaccinated myself so that I could normalize the vaccination amid fears and misinformation. Then, I worked through various vaccination drives. This time, the claps and thumbs up were still there, but the aura was different. There was hope and cheerfulness in the air. People were smiling and rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of some relief and normalcy.
During test run holding sample COVID-19 test
I continued this work to remote Alaska villages such as Afognak Island. A lumber mill there houses nearly 80 people who do not have direct access to healthcare. A physician, nurse, and I flew out on a float plane to vaccinate the people on that island. Once again, we were greeted with a warm welcome, and a sense of relief was in the air.
With team in Afognak, Alaska
Throughout this journey with COVID-19, I have learned many lessons, but the most important one is to use one’s knowledge to benefit the community. In each aspect, as a dental student and now as a dentist, I have been able to volunteer in my respective communities to better it one person at a time. I hope to continue with the vaccination drives and to provide more vaccinations to people of all ages in Kodiak and surrounding remote villages. COVID-19 is the first pandemic that this generation has had to deal with, but together we can ensure that we make a stronger and healthier world to combat COVID-19 and any other virus(es) that may arise.
Dr. Ambika Rani Srivastava is a general dentist practicing in Kodiak, AK. A 2020 research honors graduate of the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry, Dr. Srivastava has amassed numerous honors and awards, including: national recognition by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, the Community Preventive Dentistry Award, and Dentsply-Sirona Merit Award in Removable Prosthodontics. She is actively involved with the non-profit KultureCity and her local Rotary Club in Kodiak. Dr. Srivastava enjoys to infuse her passion of public health through various ventures such as spearheading COVID-19 testing and vaccination drives.