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Even before the world was, in effect, put on pause, when non-essential workers were asked to work from home if possible, Randia Marie Dickerson chose to be the kind of person who could help others.

“I am a behavioral health specialist and a healthcare worker at a hospital. [The name of the institution is being withheld for safety reasons.] I work with patients that are mentally ill, autistic or developmentally delayed,” says Dickerson, a 2019 graduate of RIC’s BSW program. She graduated from the MSW program this month.  

Once the number of positive cases increased in Rhode Island, some of the patients that Dickerson cares for unfortunately contracted COVID-19, but she continued working with them despite the risk. “There was a need for more staff at the hospital, so I began working 40 hours, five days a week or more, sometimes 16-hour shifts,” she recalls.  

Dickerson assists patients with activities of daily living (also known as ADLs), such as eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting and personal hygiene. “I interact with them when they are combative, which can involve spit or other bodily fluids coming near or onto my body and face. This puts me at a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure of directly contracting the virus.”

Despite the risk, she still feels that need to be there to help them. “As a woman of color, I know how it feels to not have anyone in your corner. There is a need and I am not afraid to carry out my job functions with patients that many people refuse to work with,” she says.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in early March, Dickerson and her partner visited family in Detroit. Unfortunately, her partner and some other members of her family contracted COVID-19. “I spent time with all of them, as well as sharing a bed with my partner before we found out she had the virus. Fortunately, I tested negative,” she recalls. 

Although her family are now well, Dickerson knows a few people that did not beat COVID-19, and doing her job is a way to honor them. “I am not scared to put others first even if it puts me at risk. I am hoping to take things a step further – get antibody testing to find out why I have such high immunity to COVID-19 and, if I am able, donate blood plasma that may help others in their recovery.”

Dickerson recognizes that her social work profession plays a big role in the passion she has to put others first. “The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics outlines our core values as service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence,” she says. “I carry these values with me as a person and as an emerging clinical social worker.”

For Dickerson, life is always about caring for others, and she believes that her experience with COVID-19, personally and professionally, will leave a lasting impression on her.

“It is my hope that from this experience people understand that is it OK to put the best interest of others first,” she says. “It is OK to be kind. Kindness goes a long way right now. Thank your cashier and smile at people in passing; we are in need of compassion and a sense of belonging.”