Public health graduate student using her internship time to help in Flagstaff’s COVID-19 response

Ivonne GarberWhen Ivonne Garber attended Northern Arizona University in 2010 for a bachelor’s in public health, she could not have imagined how her hard work and training would have prepared her to assist in Flagstaff’s COVID-19 response.

Almost 10 years later and a move to San Diego, Garber came back. Armed with her undergraduate degree, she is working part-time at Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) while finishing a master’s in public health at NAU’s College of Health and Human Services.

“NAU is lucky to attract excellent students who embody the spirit of public health and have the courage and self-sacrifice to contribute on a very high level in challenging times,” said Samantha Sabo, associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences and the Center for Health Equity Research. “Ivonne is one of our many students who is making a difference at this critical time.”

At FMC, Garber works in the critical care cluster and the intensive care unit where she performs basic care––documenting patient intake and output, helping them with hygiene and getting them ready for meals.

“I do think my education prepared me well for this period of time,” Garber said. “My public health education is a unique perspective to bring to health care. I pay close attention to my coworkers when they put on or remove personal protective equipment and ensure safe transport of COVID positive patients throughout the hospital.”

Though Garber started at NAU in pre-nursing, she changed to public health when she discovered her love for epidemiology and administration.

“After taking epidemiology, I realized it is such a good perspective to have,” Garber said. “You process health differently. It is like looking at an elephant and in order to determine what it is, you examine it from all its different sides.”

Despite COVID-19 dangers, Garber tries to work at FMC as much as possible.

“I love helping people and am very passionate about my job, so I never thought twice about putting myself at risk,” Garber said. “I try to pick up at least one extra shift per week to help out.”

In addition to her work at FMC, an internship through her master’s program allows her to work with the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care (AACIHC) where she examines the emergency responses of tribes in Arizona to COVID-19. The organization advocates for high-quality health care for American Indians in Arizona. Garber also has the opportunity to work directly with American Indian health policy experts.

To guard against COVID-19, Garber said people should protect themselves against community transmission, which can be prevented by avoiding crowds and staying at home.

“Take the precautions seriously or it spreads quickly,” Garber said. “For every one person who is COVID positive, if they are in the community, they can spread it to 2.3 people.”

As she navigates her school and work during this time, Garber finds her master’s program has helped her beyond just academics. It has trained her to be a leader, helped her get through her shyness and taught her to speak with clarity and professionalism.

“My master’s in public health prepared me by helping me develop leadership skills, and it challenged me by practicing my presentations and communication skills,” she said. “I have become much more of a go-getter.”