Volunteering on the Front Lines: Gilead Employee, Physician Goes to Work at UK Hospital

Stories@Gilead - June 09, 2020

As COVID-19 spread across the globe and began impacting people in his rural community of Tonbridge about 40 miles southeast of London, Shayon Salehi started receiving texts from former colleagues at the hospital where he worked as a hepatologist prior to joining Gilead in 2019.

“They were saying they were extremely busy, the medical staff had been phoning in sick because they had developed symptoms of COVID-19 infection, and they were asking if there was any way I could help out,” recalls Shayon, who is a Senior Manager of Medical Project Management on Gilead’s Liver Disease Medical Affairs team. “With Gilead’s support, I signed up to help out two days a week for 10 weeks.”

Shayon is one of several Gilead employees with medical backgrounds who have answered the call for volunteers to help health systems handle the challenges presented by COVID-19. The company recently introduced a worldwide policy that enables employees with medical backgrounds to take four paid weeks off to volunteer in response to the pandemic.

Shayon, who spends the other three days of the work week performing his Gilead duties from home, began volunteering in April and will continue through late June. He says the hospital is practically unrecognizable from when he last worked there – common areas are empty, visitors are not allowed and wards have been reconfigured to accommodate the surge of people with respiratory issues related to COVID-19.

“It’s very eerie – there are no relatives, no people walking around in public spaces and it’s even rare to see many other hospital staff members,” says Shayon. “It’s been really eye-opening to get the clinical perspective of what’s happening behind the scenes. Even the most accurate news coverage can’t paint a picture of what it’s like on the front lines.”

In the morning, Shayon spends his time focusing on general and acute medicine. In the afternoon, he puts his hepatology background to use seeing people with potential liver health issues. While he has provided care for patients with COVID-19 who are in recovery, his primary role has been helping fill the gaps left by shortages in medical staff to care for people with health needs that are unrelated to coronavirus infection.

“As the number of patients with COVID-19 has gone down, the hospital has gotten busier,” he says. “Over the last several weeks, I’ve noticed the people who come in for other reasons are really sick because they have been so scared to come to the hospital. Our teams are under a lot of pressure and many health workers are also facing sickness and burnout.”

Still, Shayon recounts inspiring moments from his time volunteering. Team members provide each other with emotional support in group texts and private moments in person. Many patients recover and return home to their loved ones. Hospital staff reassure family members and keep lonely patients company.

“One thing that has been really inspiring to see is how the community is showing its support by doing things such as providing food to medical staff, writing messages of support and clapping for us every Thursday evening,” says Shayon. “I’m humbled to do what I can to help for a few weeks and incredibly grateful for my colleagues and other healthcare providers around the world doing this full time.”