Bringing Quality Healthcare to Underserved Communities
TouroCOM Alum Dr. Sheneen Lalani Fights Diseases Across the Country
TEXT ON SCREEN: As a locum doctor, Sheneen Lalini travels across the United States to help where she is needed.
I've been in different hospital systems all over New York City throughout the pandemic. And then I transferred to Texas to help with the surge of cases there. And since last month, I have been in the Bronx to help with the surge of cases there.
It's definitely been very challenging working with COVID patients. But at the same time, there's something very rewarding about it, knowing that this is my duty to help these patients to the best of my ability. And I will keep going as long as I can.
When I was done with fellowship, I wanted to take a year or two off and do, possibly, international medicine to just give back. I found out that there's so many areas in the United States that have a severe shortage of doctors-- so many rural areas that don't have access to proper health care. And it's really impacting the quality of life of patients in the United States itself.
And so that's when I realized that there's this job called a locum, where all these companies hire you to work in these rural areas and sometimes big cities too.
TEXT ON SCREEN: A locum doctor is a physician who works in place of the regular physician when they are absent, or when a hospital or practice is short-staffed.
I realized I don't have to travel to another country to give back and work with the underserved. It's been life changing.
Being a locum doctor and doing it for a couple of years, you realize you develop your own method of seeing patients. Each assignment is different. And you're basically just thrown into it. You start your first day. You're trained in what the facility looks like and told what your job would be, and this is what is needed from you. And then you just start.
During the COVID pandemic, I remember, very clearly, the first patients I saw. Their kidney function went from being completely normal one day to severe the next day. One day, I would come in-- the patient would be completely fine. And then at night, they would decompensate and need oxygen. And that's when it all hit us that the COVID virus is here. We're now in the middle of a pandemic-- kind of felt like you were in a battlefield.
You have to be someone that is willing to work with limited resources to adapt very quickly to new systems. I would say practicing and doing my medical school and residency in New York City trained me for that, because in New York City, you work with so many different people from different backgrounds. You see it all.
Touro gave us a very thorough introduction to being a good doctor. The pathology of cases you see is just unmatched to anything. We're trying to figure out where I should be going next. There's so many pockets of areas where there's a very huge surge of cases.
It's truly been an honor serving people that are living in the Bronx. There are definitely a lot of challenges we face, being part of this community, with a lot of patients with very low health literacy and very severe symptoms. But it's all about just taking it one day at a time.
It feels like I'm on a treadmill, and I feel like I have to just keep going. And I already feel it. My body is starting to feel so exhausted. It's been a year of a very tough schedule, working 12 to 13 hours, sometimes 2 to 3 weeks straight with no break. And that can start getting to you.
But I also know that they still need us. And we just still have to keep going. COVID is not over. There are patients that get better and go home. And seeing that is all worth it. The training I received at Touro lit the fire in me to do what I do.
It’s five-thirty in the morning in late February, and Sheneen Lalani, DO, is already in a car service to her hospital in the Bronx.
After completing her fellowship in palliative care, Dr. Lalani, a 2014 alumna of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem, wanted to take a year off to serve as a physician to underserved populations in a remote part of the world. Then she discovered that there were places in the US—right here at home—that needed medical services just as desperately.
“So many rural areas don’t have access to healthcare and it’s really impacting the quality of life of patients in the US,” said Dr. Lalani, who, after a year serving in a rural area, chose to become a locum physician, a physician that travels to rural areas and cities across the US where medical services are needed.
“I don’t have to travel to another country to give back and work with the underserved,” said Dr. Lalani.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dr. Lalani was on the front-line, traveling from one hard-hit region to the next.
“I remember the first COVID-19 patient we had,” recalled Dr. Lalani who worked 12-13 hour shifts for weeks straight. “Their kidney functions went from being completely normal one day to severe the next day. One day the patient would be completely fine and at night they would need oxygen. That’s when it hit us: the COVID-19 virus was here.”
“Nothing can prepare you for a pandemic,” continued Dr. Lalani. “Words can’t describe what I’ve seen and gone through. It was very challenging but at the same time, it was very rewarding—knowing this is my duty to help these patients to the best of my abilities.”
She relied on her training at Touro to make it through the roughest moments.
“It felt like a battlefield—you have to be someone willing to work with limited resources and adapt very quickly to new systems,” said Dr. Lalani. “Practicing and doing my residency in New York City trained me for that. In New York City, you work with so many different people from different backgrounds you see it all. Touro gave us a very thorough introduction to being a good doctor. Touro lit the fire within me to do what I do.”
After helping combat the surge in Texas, Dr. Lalani was sent back to New York, where she lives, to help COVID-19 patients in a hospital in the Bronx.
“It’s exhausting, but I also know that patients still need us, and we need to keep going—COVID-19 is not over,” said Dr. Lalani as she got out of the car, beginning her day in the Bronx hospital at 6:40 a.m. “There are patients that get better and go home. Seeing that makes it all worth it. And I will keep going as long as I can.”