Block students gain valuable research skills while studying COVID-19 – CSB/SJU

The study looked at the impact of the virus on healthcare providers, their families and their patients.

Graduate student anthropologists in the mid-2000s often did not receive training in ethnographic skills, such as transcription, coding, and data analysis.

“Most anthropologists who got their doctorate when I did it didn’t really learn how to do it,” said Ellen Block, associate professor of anthropology in the department of sociology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. . .

But Block is trying to change that trend.

Using three CSB students as research assistants – Mackenzie Carlson, Grace Savard, and D’Havian Scott – Block submitted preliminary findings on “COVID-19: Clinical and Personal Perspectives of Health Care Providers in the United States”.

Their qualitative research examines the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare providers (HCPs), their families, and their patients. The team conducted 55 interviews with medical professionals in 18 different states between April and September.

“What Megan Sheehan and I try to do is train students in ethnographic skills, from interviewing to transcribing, coding and interpreting data,” Block said of her fellow professor. anthropology assistant at the CSB and the SJU.

“These students got really valuable hands-on experience, and it was really fun for them,” Block said. “In fact, we are doing something important and meaningful. And it’s really powerful for them.

Mission accomplished, according to the students.

“I was able to see the research process almost in its entirety,” said Carlson, a sociology major with a concentration in anthropology from Roseville, Minnesota. “I learned the skills to conduct research.

“I’m confident now that I could conduct my own larger-scale research project in graduate school or another setting,” Carlson added.

“It was a transformative experience,” said Savard, a junior double major in biology and peace studies from Arden Hills, Minnesota. “I loved that we were able to fully participate in recruiting, interviewing and analyzing/identifying emerging trends.

“Professor Block appreciated our input and we frequently collaborated as a team when making decisions. As we worked together to achieve team goals, we all also had individual tasks to complete,” said Savard.

“I’ve done research in the classroom before, but never to this extent,” said Scott, a sociology student with a concentration in anthropology from Nassau, Bahamas. “I would say that the research projects I did in class really prepared me to dive into this research.

“I’m glad I got to experience what research is like outside of the classroom. It gave me an idea of ​​the practical challenges I might face, but also the benefits of doing this job,” Scott added.

Block’s previous research also addressed a global health issue. In 2019, “Infected Kin: Orphan Care and AIDS in Lesotho”, a book she co-authored with Will McGrath, was published analyzing how the disease has shaped and impacted families in the African country.

“Then this pandemic (COVID-19) happened, and I thought it was a perfect example of a kinship disease. It’s a disease that is affecting literally every human being on Earth right now, whether you know someone who has had it or not,” Block said.

“I was thinking, ‘How can I use my ethnographic skills, my anthropological knowledge, to think about this problem in light of the connection to the central idea of ​​my first project in Lesotho?’ said Block. “I thought health care providers would be a really interesting place to start, because they’re in the belly of the beast.

“They are in the eye of the storm, caring for the sickest COVID patients, but also in a position to put themselves at risk and then return home to put their families at risk,” she added. .

Block and the students interviewed doctors, nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. During the interview process, they investigated three areas:

  • Professional impacts of COVID-19 on healthcare professionals;
  • Personal impacts of COVID-19 on healthcare professionals;
  • Isolation and its reverberation effects.

An interesting finding made by the team is that “COVID-19 is also characterized by unique isolation and loneliness for patients and families that health care providers testify to. The effects of this isolation are devastating and disrupt the fundamental ways in which humans make meaning, especially around the important rite of passage of death.

“Spotty or limited mental health and wellness efforts by healthcare providers will not be enough to address the immense physical and psychological challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.”

The students’ liberal arts background helped, they all agreed.

“I’ve been doing research since I was a freshman and it’s always been something that was encouraged in my major,” Scott said. “I think going to a liberal arts institution has really helped us grow and develop in a way that other students at other colleges may not have. I value the experiences I have gained through a liberal arts education and being able to draw from different fields of study is helpful for doing research.

“Being at a small liberal arts school has been helpful because I’ve been able to get to know my teachers to the point where I can just reach out and say, ‘Hey, can I join this?’ and it works,” Carlson said. “I think if I was in a bigger school, I wouldn’t have the relationship with Ellen that made it so easy for me to join.”

“I firmly believe that everything is connected. Interdisciplinary relationships are central to a liberal arts education. I’m double majoring in peace studies and biology on a pre-PA track, but I have a passion for medical anthropology and sociology,” said Savard, who submitted a thesis proposal to explore the biosocial and sociological elements to better understand the effects of COVID-19 on health care workers and society in general .

“Although I am not a sociology student, I had the opportunity to assist and work alongside Professor Block on an incredible healthcare-related project that I am immensely passionate about. Our research brought together elements of sociology, anthropology, political science and communication. I don’t think I would have had this opportunity in a non-liberal arts school,” added Savard.

“It’s been a really cool experience for them,” Block said. “They are presenting at two professional conferences, they are working on a paper for publication and one of them is preparing a thesis, so they have played a central role. I think they learned a lot.

Editor’s note: Ellen Block has published her article, “Exposed Intimacies: Clinicians on the Frontlines of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” in the June issue of Anthropology in Action: Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice (Volume 27 , Number 2) .

Paul N. Strickland