The True Courage of Dr. Jessica Long ‘04

The True Courage of Dr. Jessica Long ‘04

“Whenever I begin something new, including a change in my work schedule (even under normal circumstances), I experience some anticipatory anxiety,” said Dr. Jessica Long ‘04, who is a Resident of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. But this time was different. Long was about to do her usual labor and delivery rotation in the maternity ward—under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was pretty anxious. I found it hard to sleep and worried about going to work tired. I had to remind myself that this is what I’ve been doing; and yes, there are new factors and risks, but I’m still treating and caring for patients the same way—just with additional precautions,” Long said.

From the beginning, the University of Chicago Medical Center took a very proactive approach and strictly followed CDC guidelines to protect staff. And yet, Long owns up to being afraid and the need to reconcile with herself: Am I going to get COVID-19? Will I end up in the ICU? Will I die from this disease?

At first, she and her colleagues kept their worries to themselves but they soon realized that it’s not only ok, but therapeutic, to admit their apprehensions openly. “This is not something a healthy 33-year-old should have to worry about, but now I do.” Long and her colleagues care for and deliver babies for women with confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19. “We still don’t know that much about it—like how much the virus is present in amniotic fluid, but you can’t really keep your distance when a woman is in labor,” mused Long. She recalls delivering one baby to an asymptomatic mother who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. “We’re also still dealing with a high false-negative test rate, so when we see patients come in with symptoms who have tested negative, we still take the same precautions,” she said.

Long might be selling herself short when it comes to courage and leadership in the face of danger. Long’s mother, Reverend Adrienne Berry-Burton P’96, ‘04 and Governor’s Trustee Emerita, recalls a time when her daughter was a student living at Govs and awoke in the middle of the night only to realize that there was a fire in her dorm. Keeping a cool head, Long quickly helped everyone exit the building safely. “Jessica was a fierce leader and a skilled community builder. I remember her Chapel Talk, her care for her dorm-mates, and her love for the faculty children at GDA. She was also a successful student, artist, and athlete,” added Berry-Burton.

Long’s decision to attend the Academy was influenced by family friend Ike Suggs '78, P'97,'02. Suggs, who continues to be a steadfast champion of the Academy, was a student, then parent, and eventually a teacher and Admissions Officer at Govs. He played a pivotal role in connecting children, including Long, from urban communities with private schools. He endeavored to provide support to students of color at Govs and offered them a safe environment to share their diverse experiences. Long went on to earn her BA at Dartmouth College, her PHPD at Tufts University, and finally, her MD at UMass Medical School.

Clearly Long is focused and has been the master of her destiny. And while she’s been able to wrestle down her own worries and fears, she’s humbled by those of her patients. “There has been a sharp decline in patients coming in; they are reluctant to come into a hospital that they see as having high infection areas with three wards devoted to caring for COVID-19 patients. We started getting a lot of requests for home deliveries and the hospital realized it needed to do some PR around what’s ok to do at home and when patients really need to come in,” said Long. “We do everything we can to keep the mother and babies together and safe,” she explained.

For Long, helping her community is deeply personal and she carries the Govs motto of non sibi sed aliis, not self but for others, everywhere she goes. “I will always appreciate my GDA experience. I learned how to value other opinions and I deepened my commitment to serving others,” said Long, who volunteered regularly while she was a student at the Academy. “It’s also how I was raised; my mother taught us that you always have something to give, and you can always make someone else’s day brighter,” she said. Long and her siblings grew up in a single-parent household with her mother working and raising the family while pursuing a graduate degree as a minister. Long recalls volunteering with her siblings at a local soup kitchen, despite experiencing food insecurity in her own family. “We would go every Monday. Sometimes to help and sometimes to get a box of food to bring home,” said Long. 

Despite a demanding work schedule, she heads out into her community every day to help others. “If there are ways that you can give back, do it. You might not always see it, but you will receive so much more for what might seem like a small act of kindness,” said Long. “And never let other people deter you,” she added. She recalled a time early this spring when the impacts of COVID-19 were unfolding and she was approached by an older woman who wanted to know where Long had found her mask. The next week an older gentleman asked her the same question, and it dawned on her that she was being called to service. “There are people, mostly older in underserved communities, who have virtually no access to face masks,” said Long.

So she went to work. She asked friends and colleagues for donations; from homemade cloth masks to N95 masks—whatever people could spare. She then created a sign that said Free Face Masks, fixed it to her backpack, and walked through the neighborhood. “People are often shy or reluctant to approach me, so I began asking people if they needed a facemask,” she said. “People couldn’t believe that I was giving them away for free. I told them to take extra for their families, too.” 

 

A few colleagues and friends challenged Long on her choice to distribute much-needed facemasks to everyday people. And shouldn’t she give them to nursing homes and front-line workers first? “Maybe that’s something you can do,” Long would reply in earnest.

“Jessica can be blunt when she needs to be,” said her brother Raymond Long ‘96, Director of Financial Aid and Associate Director of Admission at Govs, and a fellow Dartmouth College graduate. “She will let you know what you need to do in a caring and polite way. She's always been someone who cares how those around her are doing and wants what's best for them,” he said.

“As a healthcare provider in a community where people are struggling, I have the chance to help those who have less and need more,” said Long. “This is what I’ve been called to do. I’ll keep going while I still have masks left and people still need them,” she added.

Dr. Jessica Long will not be deterred.