This week we spoke with Sarah Rosanel, a cardiovascular fellow on the frontlines of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Born in Morocco, Sarah moved to France at the age of nine, and then came to the U.S. to study medicine at Yeshiva University - Stern College for Women when she was 17 years old. Today she is a board certified internal medicine doctor and is part of a fellowship training to be a cardiologist.
From Monday through Friday, she works in an intensive care unit from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., followed by a 24-hour shift on the weekend, and then a day off at home with her husband and three young children. “And then we keep going,” she said. “Sometimes I’m on call for 24 hours during the week.”
This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
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What is a typical day like as a frontline worker in a New York City hospital?
As of today and the whole month of May, I have been at the critical care intensivise unit working with medical residents and nurses in the CCU unit, as we call it. The CCU consists of 10 beds. We start around 8 a.m. each morning by going through the cases as a team. We hear any updates that happened overnight, any new admissions, any heart attacks or cardiac arrests. Then we plan out the day and discuss the cases. So, let's say if I have a patient that came with a heart attack, we will talk about heart attacks, risk factors and ways to prevent one.
Then during the day we manage any emergencies happening regarding those 10 patients. And then there's always little things, like if an emergency happens at the end of the day, you’ll have to stay a little longer until everybody's stable.
Then I go home at about 6 o'clock and then we have to do everything again the next day.
What is the atmosphere like inside the hospital?
Right now it's a bit better. When COVID-19 hit us, it was very sudden and very scary. We didn’t know what type of equipment we needed or what we should have. There was a lot of controversy about which mask to use. It was a new virus and nobody knew how to tackle this disease. So it was very tense and it was very scary for us, for patients and for our families. The whole infrastructure of the hospital changed to accommodate the increasing number of patients that were coming to us. But now it's calmed down, we have resumed some of our regular activities and we have the appropriate personal protection equipment. There are also other diseases people are battling, and we have to treat those patients as well.
Because this is no longer new to us, we can be more relaxed in a way, because we’ve seen it all. We kind of know how it behaves even though there’s still so much to learn — and we’re learning every day.
What’s your motivation to go into work?
My kids ask me this all the time and I love them for it. My kids are saying, "Mom, we're having such a good time together, why do you have to go back to work?" And I tell them that I need to help people, those who need it the most. Let me just give you a little anecdote.
Just yesterday, I was taking care of a patient for a couple of days — he came in short of breath. There was a question if he had COVID or just pneumonia, and I had been taking care of him while he was intubated and connected to a ventilator for a couple of days. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of discharging him home. When he was about to be discharged, he came to me and he said, I want to thank you for everything you did for me, for your patience, for coming to my room, for talking to me, for going the extra mile. And That was very heartwarming, and that is exactly what keeps me going.
How are you passing on that positivity?
I truly believe that putting a smile on your face is contagious and it's going to hopefully put a smile on other people's face. I'm not going to lie, I am very tired. I've been working nonstop ever since the beginning of the COVID crisis and I was even sick at some point. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I want to stay in bed. But I still get up and go to work. Even though it's hard, I do it because of the clear goal that I have in mind, which is: Let's go and make a difference in somebody's life. And that's what keeps me going. And that's why when I get to the hospital, I go in with my smile and say to my team, "We're going to have a beautiful day today — don't worry about it, it's going to be fine."
Do you have any financial stress as a frontline worker?
We’re a dual-income household. My husband is a certified public accountant and he’s working from home and helping out the kids with their schoolwork. It’s challenging because he has to take his meetings in the basement and the kids take their Zoom classes in their rooms. So he’s going up and down the stairs all day just to make sure every link is clicked. It’s hard because I may have a day off on a school day, but that comes right after a 24-hour shift. So I’ll try to help my kids out until mid-day but then I crash and sleep. But unfortunately that’s how it is. We are doing OK, but I know it’s not the same for other people. My friends and family members have experienced layoffs or salary cuts, and that’s been hard.
Are you working toward any financial goals?
My husband has a good head on his shoulders and always points me in the right direction. He always urges me to save and invest money and to have an emergency savings account. We've been talking about saving, and even though my salary is not great yet because I'm only a fellow, I save a hundred dollars per paycheck automatically, so I don't even see the money and I don't think about spending it.
Here's our guide to setting up automatic savings contributions
What is the best financial advice you've ever received?
Invest, invest, invest. With everything happening and the crash, it may seem crude. But my husband has reassured me that it’s OK. Even if you lost all the savings that you put in for the past couple of years that you've been investing, the market can still rebound pretty fast. It's a long-term game. You have to be patient, but eventually it's going to pay off.
What about the worst financial advice you've ever received?
This is the one point where me and my husband disagree. We bought a house about five years ago with a 30-year mortgage. But then my husband decided to refinance the mortgage to 15 years, which initially sounds great. But once that happened, we were in trouble for a few months because we couldn’t keep up with the expenses.
It was hard for the past three years to really catch up. But, eventually we caught up and my husband picked up another job in real estate. We’re good today. But it could have been terrible because it can be critical, if you’re spending more money than you have on top of steep interest rates.
Here's our guide to refinancing a mortgage
What is the most difficult part of your job?
The most difficult part of my job is definitely to see a patient die or announce to a family member member that somebody died. That is the worst part of my job and I have to do it. It's part of being a doctor. I absolutely hate it, because that's not the reason why I do medicine. I got into medicine to save people.
What is the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part is seeing patients leave. When a patient leaves the hospital stronger than when they came in and they’re reunited with their family and kids. That’s the most beautiful part of my job. I walk out of the hospital feeling so happy and rewarded and I share that with my kids at home.