An insider’s perspective

An insider’s perspective

Dr. Jeffrey Le ’07 goes from music to medicine to the frontlines of the pandemic

Dr. Jeffrey Le ’07 posing for a picture wearing his white coat

Dr. Jeffrey Le ’07

Dr. Jeffrey Le ’07 graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in music. He was a member of the Midnight Ramblers a cappella group, with whom he traveled extensively, bringing music and joy to audiences around the world.

As a University Kauffman scholar, Le added a fifth year to his undergraduate program, during which he dedicated that time to the Hopeman Memorial Carillon program. That’s when he learned to play the elaborate bell system, organized an initiative to repair them, and was instrumental in revitalizing a student carillon performance group.

After graduating, Le moved from his home town of Rochester to New York City, with a brief stint in Philadelphia along the way. He shifted career aspirations then, too. He moved from music to medicine and earned a medical degree from the New York Institute of Technology in Long Island.

Last summer, Le finished his residency and is now a board certified internist. Singing and music continue to be a major part of his life, though. In May of 2019, Le even performed at Rockefeller Center at a concert hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (concert pictured above). He also opened for a Boyz II Men, Gavin DeGraw, and Imagine Dragons show.

Le’s medical training isn’t over yet. He’s specializing in cardiology and is now part of a three-year-long fellowship program at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. But, just a few months into his fellowship, COVID-19 hit.

Very quickly—almost overnight, Le says—his work at the hospital shifted from working with cardiology patients to exclusively caring for COVID-19 patients. “Since I am board certified, I am now responsible for a whole unit of COVID-19 patients,” he says, noting that his 60-80 hour weeks are long, hard, and intense, with some shifts lasting up to 24 hours.

Le recalls his first COVID-19 patient, a 70-year-old woman:

“She was short of breath and we didn’t know why. We thought maybe she had fluid in her lungs. Maybe it was heart failure. One day, I went in to see her and she wasn’t breathless, which is an excellent metric of health. She was speaking in full sentences, too, and she talked to me about what she wanted to do when she went home.

Then, just two hours later, I was called back into her room. She didn’t look like the same person. She was pale, and she was huffing and puffing and couldn’t get any air. Her decline was so different from any patient I’d had before—I’d never seen someone crash in this way, so dramatically and fast. We intubated her, put her on a ventilator, and tested her for COVID-19. Not surprisingly, her test was positive.

This was a learning experience for me—to see just how quickly a COVID-19 patient’s condition can worsen. Luckily, hers is one of the good stories. We extubated her two weeks later, treated her the best we could, and she continued to improve.”

Le reflects on another difficult COVID-19 reality—that patients cannot have visitors. He elaborates:

“Early on, I remember one of my patients. He was in his mid-50s, and his health went downhill fast. He went from being at work one day to being hospitalized the next. He missed his wife and three kids so much, and it was heartbreaking to watch.

Compounding that is the fact that we, as care providers, have to limit our exposure to our patients. We can’t go into their rooms as often as we normally would and we have to limit the amount of time in there, too. We bundle care for efficiency and increased safety. So, before I go into someone’s room, I ask the nurses if that patient needs medication. I then give that medication instead of having a nurse do it, as would normally be the case. This limits exposure for all and it doesn’t waste precious PPE [personal protective equipment].

I’ll forever have this etched in my mind, too . . . as I walk down the hospital’s hallways every day, I often glance into patient rooms. I see some of them laying there, just peering out through their windows. They look so very lonely. When this is all over, I know I won’t forget that.”

Le has vowed to himself to spend a few extra minutes with every patient no matter their condition or diagnosis, including COVID-19. “I became a doctor because I care about people and want to help them,” he says. “I hope that any time I can spend with them makes some difference in how they feel and how quickly they can recover.”

Recently, Le was approached by NBC News to share his perspective as a physician on New York City’s frontlines. He was interviewed for The Today Show and was part of an NBC news story that includes a video featuring several health care professionals answering the question “I wish I had known this” about the virus.

Read Dr. Jeffrey Le’s message to his hometown of Rochester in City newspaper. Follow him on Instagram @drjeffle.

We all can do something to help. Consider donating supplies or foodgiving blood (URMC is facing a critical shortage), making a gift to our URMC COVID-19 emergency fund, and supporting our student emergency fund.

— Kristine Thompson April 2020