When you ask recent alumna, Katherine Vaughn, who has made the biggest impact on her life, she’ll tell you it’s her mother.

Vaughn, who studied biochemistry and chemistry, grew up in Northern Virginia and spent a lot of her childhood lounging in the breakroom of her mom’s physician practice. In high school, she worked as the office secretary. During this time, Vaughn noticed that there weren’t many child and adolescent psychiatrists like her mother in the Northern Virginia area.

“While I was checking patients in and out, they’d tell me how much they appreciated my mom’s work. Some patients told me that they would drive an hour one-way to have an appointment in my mom’s practice.” Vaughn said. “They didn’t feel that physicians at previous clinics they’d visited really cared for them like my mom did.”

This realization of the desperate need for a greater presence of psychiatrists sent Vaughn down a medical career path with a stop at Virginia Tech as a biochemistry and chemistry major. Vaughn’s mom would inspire her to begin her journey, but her experiences in the health care field along with the education she received within the biochemistry department would motivate Vaughn to fight on the front lines of the pandemic and to give back to the campus community.

During Vaughn’s last semester at Virginia Tech, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the United States had just begun. She was taking two rigorous in-person lab courses which were transitioned online. At the same time, Vaughn was working as a nursing assistant at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Katherine Vaughn and her mother
Katherine Vaughn and her mother stand outside in the parking lot of Katherine's mom's physician practice. Photo courtesy of Katherine Vaughn.

“It was so weird for me because I had one shift the first weekend of spring break and then a second shift scheduled toward the end of break," she said. "On my first shift, we just had our first COVID-19 case in Virginia. By my next shift, we were seeing multiple cases and my unit was converted into one of the COVID-19 units to prepare for the volume of cases."

Vaughn had to strike the balance between being a student and keeping up with classes as well as being a frontline health care worker and staying updated on changes related to COVID-19. Though Vaughn maintained a positive attitude and hopeful outlook, she described that period as a “weird time.”

Following graduation in May, Vaughn spent her summer applying to 11 medical schools. After submitting all of her applications and finishing her secondaries in August, she decided that she’d work while she waited to hear back from the schools. Vaughn started to schedule herself for more shifts at the hospital when she received an email about the job opportunity at the ArcPoint Testing Clinic.

She’d learned that they needed swabbers for the Lane Stadium testing station at Virginia Tech and were looking for people with certifications. Vaughn was CNA-licensed, already had experiences in a health care setting, and was not uncomfortable knowing that she might be interacting with potentially positive patients, so she applied and began at ArcPoint in September.

Vaughn said that her experience with ArcPoint is completely different from her hospital setting.

“The patients that I saw at the hospital tended to be older, were pretty sick, and they couldn’t do a lot on their own. However, the patients I see at ArcPoint are independent and vary,” she said.

ArcPoint generally tests three groups of people: randomly selected students for prevalence testing, employees who are mandated to get tested every two weeks for surveillance testing, and anyone with a PID who wants to make an appointment for voluntary testing.

“Through my experience with ArcPoint, I’ve learned how to work with a larger variety of patients and to gauge where a patient is emotionally and physically to work with them and ensure the procedure is as comfortable as possible,” Vaughn said.

In October, Vaughn was promoted to a supervisor position, and she’s incredibly thankful for the experience she’s had with ArcPoint. She’s proud of the lasting positive impact that the clinic has made on the campus community.

“Many of my peers thought Virginia Tech would only stay open for, at the most, three weeks, but we stayed open the entire semester,” Vaughn said. “The clinic gave students a sense of normalcy with having hybrid classes and being back on-campus. Virginia Tech was able to keep the rate of spread down significantly.”

As COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more readily available to the public, Vaughn is thankful for what she learned in the biochemistry senior capstone lab.

“I was able to have informed conversations with friends and family about the COVID-19 vaccine. I was better equipped to explain where the misconceptions about the vaccine came from and help them feel more reassured and comfortable with the vaccine technology,” she said.

In a post-COVID-19 world, Vaughn wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and open her own physician practice. She also wants to focus on medical research and run clinical studies.

“I want to treat patients to the best of my abilities and I believe that to do so, you need to be able to understand and critique research, seek out benefits, and critically think for yourself,” Vaughn said.

 ‑Written by Cameron Warren