COVID-19, like all huge crises, has accelerated new perspectives and revelations amid a time of turmoil and change. In many cases, it has brought out “the best” in people.
Amid worldwide tragedy, one Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine student seized opportunities to make a difference. Ora Batash, a student in the 2019 Cohort, organized groups both through the School and out in the community that made an impact – so much so that she was awarded the United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Award.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognized Batash’s “commitment to public health” amid the challenges of the pandemic, in distinguishing her.
For the self-professed “non-traditional” medical student, the award is a big milestone to mark her growth as a budding doctor, considering her attempts to help out both through the School and in her community over the trying times since the pandemic changed virtually everything in early 2020.
“Whatever I do in my career, I want it to be in direct service,” said Batash recently. “This is how I found my way to this calling.”
It was not as direct a route as some other students.
“Ora brings a great spirit and a sharp mind to our student body, and we anticipate great things from her through a long and exciting career in medicine,” said Bonita Stanton, M.D., founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.
A MUSICIAN, A FAMILY
Batash majored as an undergraduate in music composition and gender studies at New York University, and has spent most of her life honing her craft on the violin and guitar. But as she spent several years after college trying out a series of jobs, from working with a violin maker, to teaching elementary school children, she found that she was drawn again and again to community work, community organizing, and helping out where she could in and around New York City.
Batash is a first-generation American who grew up with her grandparents in Queens. Her grandmother, had been an obstetrician-gynecologist in her native Georgia before emigrating to the United States. The woman was a role model.
“This was a woman who married my grandfather at age 16 –but only after she got her father to agree to allow her to finish her degree,” said Batash.
In the United States, Ora watched her grandmother navigate around endless language and other barriers – especially when her own health was involved. Ora was partly motivated to pursue a career in medicine by her grandmother’s resilience, compassion, and care for the community around her despite the obstacles she faced.
So even as she was deciding on a long-term career path, Batash found herself doing community work through groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, helping out where she could.
THE COVID TIMES
Batash found herself not just wanting, but needing, to do something amid the historic sweeping global pandemic.
The COVID-19 Care Team is a group she founded with a group of other dedicated HMSOM students. Together they sought to assist the front-line workers in any way they could. The main contribution came through education itself: by teaching the children of doctors, nurses and team members in the Hackensack Meridian Health network through group workshops and tutoring sessions, physical education breakouts, and even story time.
“As medical students, we have been thinking of ways to help our Hackensack Meridian Health community that could be implemented safely,” according to the group’s website. “Our goal is to lessen the burden on (the clinicians), by providing virtual sessions for (their) children.”
For about eight months, it helped offset the pressures that came with their colleagues already at the clinical front lines, said Batash.
“That group helped at the peak of the pandemic,” said Batash. “We had to do something, even if we don’t have our medical degrees yet.”
But Batash also found ways to give back to her community at a time of unrest, amid the pandemic. She organized a small group of volunteers who assisted protests as street medics during massive demonstrations in the wake of the homicide of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police . The resulting nationwide, and even global, protests against police brutality sometimes became violent. Street medics like Batash were trained by NY Action Medical, a collective of healthcare workers, that provides a wide range of real-time first aid and emergency care at protests and direct actions in New York City. This includes first aid, heat exhaustion, hypoglycemia, panic attacks, waiting with someone who is injured until EMS arrives to a scene. But one of the key needs was eye-washing to mitigate against some of the uses of chemical deterrents on the crowd, she recalls now.
Both roles, through the School and out in the street of New York, were cited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services award she earned.
“It’s been an adventure,” said Batash.
Batash has grown much over her time at the School, she said. Initially, on top of being a “non-traditional” student who had focused on music, she was also one of the students with a learning disability who found that the curriculum could have been more accommodating. She ultimately became one of the strongest voices for making changes and accommodations currently helping others at the school with doing the necessary work toward the degree.
“This is a newer school, so there was room to have conversations, and to work on communication and collaboration,” she recalled. “That’s part of what makes this school special.”
Currently she is doing her rotations in pediatrics. But she is not yet committed to a particular specialty or niche. Ultimately, she feels her skills would be best used in a specialty where there’s an undifferentiated population – either emergency medicine or family medicine. Her time working out in the community has convinced her of the need to help out anyone, and everyone she can – a trait only strengthened by the School’s curriculum, including the Human Dimension.
“That’s why I saw drawn to this school,” said Batash. “It tackles these inequities head-on. It’s a great place to start.”