Alumni in Action: Susanna Hearn ’07 working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis

Susanna Hearn '07 discusses the toll the ongoing pandemic takes on her interactions with patients at a Florida hospital and the important role medical professionals play, sometimes under the radar, in the fight against COVID-19.

Susanna Hearn graduated from Elon in 2007 with a biology degree. After obtaining her doctorate in physical therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina, she now works at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she assists in the COVID-19 unit in addition to treating her regular patients. Hearn primarily works with geriatric patients, a high-risk population.

While many are familiar with traditional medical doctors and nurses taking care of patients on the floor, fewer are aware of the other specialized medical professionals like Hearn who serve alongside them.

“Physical therapy in acute care is extremely hands on,” Hearn says. “We spend a significant portion of our education learning about body mechanics and the best way to mobilize someone after certain things, so that level of expertise has been extremely beneficial to these patients when they’re ready to mobilize.”

This specialized training in body mechanics is essential when it comes to things like positioning patients so they can receive critical medical care, or helping with ambulation and mobility after procedures.

Through this global pandemic, perhaps the world’s magnifying glass on medical professionals will spotlight those who make a difference on a day-to-day basis. “I hope that everyone has a better appreciation for those jobs that they didn’t think about before all this happened,” Hearn says.

A common message shared repeatedly during this pandemic is the isolating condition in which COVID-19 patients find themselves. Hearn echoes this sentiment when describing her interaction with them.

While she prides herself on her ability to connect with patients and make them feel at ease by sharing a warm smile or excitement for an accomplishment made during therapy, it is difficult to do so when wearing personal protective equipment from head to toe. Not only are these patients scared and isolated in their room, unable to connect with their families, but the veil created by those layers of PPE diminishes what little connection could be found in a shared expression with the only human interaction they have.

“It’s jarring to go into a room and not have a patient see your face,” Hearn says. “I have been upset about that because I am very animated with my facial expressions. When people do something great, I like to encourage them, so it’s hard to show that support through the mask.”

As we come to terms with a new normal and new social restrictions, let us also take a moment each day to remember the selfless citizens, like Hearn, who trade in their sweatpants for scrubs and head off to serve those in need at the front lines of this invisible battle.

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.