Nya Khor envisioned making a career out of helping others early on in life. It’s why she selected public health as a major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and became a certified nursing assistant.
That same vision is what led her to become a member of the Office of Health Security’s testing staff at UNO’s COVID-19 testing center, located in the Scott Conference Center, where she and a small team of UNO public health and pre-med students to play a role in testing hundreds of UNO students, faculty, and staff every week as part of UNO’s Maverick COVID response. The work can be tiring, Khor said, but the experience and the interactions she has with patients each day makes it worthwhile.
“Usually when they come in the first scary thought that they have is ‘oh my gosh, it’s the nasopharyngeal when they go all the way back, and I don’t want to be uncomfortable,’” she said. “Just telling them that it is a nasal swab, I can see the relief on their face.”
The Office of Health Security works closely with its student workers, local health officials, and the Nebraska Public Health Lab to make the COVID-19 testing experience quick, free, and painless. After the student, faculty, or staff member has scheduled an appointment online through the Maverick COVID Response website, a Health Security team member will guide them through the check-in process the day of their appointment.
When the time comes to administer the test, the individual will have the option to self-administer the painless nasal swab test, or have a testing center staff member administer the test. The entire visit typically lasts less than 10 minutes and results are usually sent via encrypted email within two to four business days.
In addition to her testing responsibilities, Khor also helps with patient check-in, testing center set-up, or any other needs identified by the full-time staff. One of those staff members, Marcia Adler, Ph.D., a public health instructor in UNO’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, recruited Khor and the other students to earn hands-on experience.
Adler was a part of the university’s H1N1 preparedness efforts as former director for UNO Health Services and the experience inspired her to better equip her students for future pandemics, which included pandemic scenario planning part of the classroom experience for her public health courses.
“We never knew what the organism was going to be, but the statistics tell us that this is going to happen. This isn’t even the biggest pandemic we’re going to see, probably in my lifetime, so we need to have our stuff together so we can handle the UNO community,” Adler said. “The UNO community is a microcosm of the larger community, so if we get UNO right, we can also help the larger community. I see it as part of our university’s mission to get this right.”
She added that UNO’s testing center is also reflective of her commitment, and the university’s larger commitment, to community engagement. The built-in desire to serve trickled down to students.
“We are used to working in the community. The students who work with me understand that’s one of my core values – that we are part of the community,” Adler said. “So, when I started talking about this, it was ‘How do we get signed up? What do we do next?’ We had tons of interest right away.”
Rhea Flowers, a testing center student staff member and public health student, got involved because she was one of the many students now helping the testing center who couldn’t picture themselves on the sidelines during the pandemic. The responsibilities can leave her exhausted some nights, but she sees the work as valuable experience and doing her part to make a difference.
Flowers hopes that when the COVID-19 pandemic is a thing of the past, she will take a much-deserved vacation to Hawaii. Until then, she hopes that others do their part to fight back against the virus as well.
“Coming in and getting tested is how you help your community out,” she said. “With every test, you help prevent someone else from being exposed to the virus.”
COVID-19 Testing Experience
You can schedule an appointment online through the Maverick COVID Response website, a Health Security team member will guide you through the check-in process the day of your appointment.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.