The Doctor Is In… Fifth Grade

By Steve Blanchard - April 14, 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pulled us all out of our comfort zones. Work arrangements have changed. Kids are taking classes from the living room. And our pets are beginning to wonder if we’ll ever leave the house again.

Dr. Karen Fields, oncologist and medical director of Clinical Pathways and Value-Based Cancer Care at Moffitt Cancer Center

But for Dr. Karen Fields, a Moffitt Cancer Center oncologist and medical director of Clinical Pathways and Value-Based Cancer Care, the pandemic provided an opportunity to share her expertise with an audience she would not normally have – a class full of fifth grade students.

Earlier this month, Fields was a guest lecturer of sorts for Corbett Preparatory School in Tampa. It just so happens that her son, Michael, is a teacher there and invited her to talk science with his students.

“The kids are studying life sciences right now and they had a lot of questions about viruses, which are on the top of everyone’s mind right now,” Fields said. She added that there were 47 students, four teachers and the school’s headmaster in attendance. “I did a little slide presentation to make it more interesting.”

This was the first time Fields had done a presentation for such a young group. But it was a way for her to give back in a stressful time and to help out her favorite teacher.

“These kids are having very long school days on the web,” Fields said. “They seemed interested and they were allowed to ask me questions by raising their hands through the Zoom application during the lecture. All in all they seemed very well engaged.”

Dr. Fields illustrates cell make up over Zoom.
Dr. Fields illustrates cell make up to the students over Zoom.

While COVID-19 was of course at the forefront of the conversation, Fields said she took the time to present the information about viruses as a whole, which she hopes will help the students understand why they are staying at home and how this new normal will eventually end the pandemic.

“They are fifth graders, so this was more about the general science,” Fields explained. “I talked about the human cell and how a virus can take over that cell. I explained that viruses try to reproduce themselves and that their survival is linked to spreading.”

Fields said she also explained that the COVID-19 virus is in a family of coronaviruses and that sneezing, coughing, hand-to-hand contact and large gatherings are ways for this virus – and others – to spread.

“It’s a scary time for all of us, for sure,” Fields said. “So I also talked to them about the good side of viruses. I told them that scientists can use viruses to fight diseases and that they are an important part of vaccines. My goal was to leave them with the knowledge of what the virus is, but to also leave them feeling empowered about how to fight it.”

So far, this is the only speaking engagement to a school on Fields’ calendar. However, since both her son and daughter-in-law teach at Corbett Prep, she wouldn’t be surprised if she gets another invitation or two.

“I was fortunate that I had the time to speak with these students and I think it’s good for Moffitt to realize that there are a lot of questions among the kids in our community,” Fields said. “I know we’re all busy, but this is such a good way to give back to the community and it was a fun thing to do.”

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