For Dr. Dan Wells, a career in medicine was a way to pursue a passion for helping others in their times of need.
When COVID-19 put health care workers on the frontlines of a pandemic, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer to treat patients, despite the fear surrounding the virus.
Dr. Wells said it has been rewarding to work with like-minded colleagues – and especially to help patients recover and go home.
Dan Wells, MD remembers reading the book And the Band Played On while in medical school. He was moved by the tale of courageous doctors and nurses who cared for patients during the burgeoning HIV epidemic, even amid later disproven fears that the virus could spread just from being in a room with an infected person.
The book’s message inspired Dr. Wells. He carried this inspiration with him to Regional One Health, where he feels privileged to serve as a hospitalist, overseeing the medical care of patients who have been admitted to the hospital for a wide variety of conditions.
When the health system asked for volunteers to form a COVID-19 Unit, he didn’t hesitate.
“There’s a lot of fear about this virus, and for patients who get it and end up in the hospital, they think it’s a death sentence. Patients are more scared than providers, so it’s our obligation to take care of them,” he said.
But it goes beyond obligation.
Dr. Wells said everyone he works with at Regional One Health has a special place in their hearts for people who come to them in a time of need: “We want to be there for them.”
Dr. Wells says the COVID-19 unit is a tight-knit group. “There’s a lot of camaraderie among us, and the nurses and respiratory therapists who came to the unit came voluntarily and have a high sense of urgency to be there. We trust each other.”
For Dr. Wells, it’s also a chance to serve the community he has always called home.
He grew up in Germantown and went to University of Tennessee Knoxville for undergrad, then returned to Memphis for medical school at University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He did his med/peds residency at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, combining internal medicine and pediatrics.
While he initially planned to practice pediatrics, the deeper he got into school, the more he was drawn to adult medicine thanks to the patients he worked with at Regional One Health.
“I realized how interesting and complex adult medicine is and how rewarding it is to be able to talk to the patients themselves about their care,” said Dr. Wells, who currently serves as director of the med/peds residency program. “It’s my dream job.”
He firmly believes patients deserve physicians who aren’t just capable and knowledgeable, but who are excited to take care of them. That drew him to the COVID unit, where he knew he would be helping people who were likely terrified about their diagnosis.
It’s a decision he made knowing full well it would involve personal sacrifice.
Dr. Wells has two young kids, and his wife is expecting their third. He realized he would need to take precautions to protect himself and his family while treating patients with the virus.
He said Amber Thacker, MD, his hospitalist colleague who established the COVID-19 unit, has done an incredible job keeping providers safe. “We’re protected as best as we can be,” he said. “There is always fear that comes with being around the virus, but at the end of the day, Dr. Thacker has made sure we have the resources we need.”
“As providers, we’re gaining an understanding of the virus and how to treat patients,” Dr. Wells says. “We have an obligation to do our part, and it’s been very validating to react and learn as this situation evolves.
It also helps that the unit is extremely close-knit. Dr. Wells was in residency with Dr. Thacker and other members of the physician team, and they are joined by a group of exceptional nurses who work closely with the hospitalist group.
“It’s a really tight division, and that’s super important,” he said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie among us, and the nurses and respiratory therapists who came to the unit came voluntarily and have a high sense of urgency to be there. We trust each other, and that’s huge.”
While Dr. Wells has high praise for his fellow employees, it is the patients who inspire him most. “Something that has been really cool is that the patients are very motivated to get well,” he said. “They are very active participants in their own care.”
Patients are eager to walk, do breathing exercises and do self-proning, a technique where they lie on their stomach. It has been proven to increase blood oxygen saturation in COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Wells said it’s a rewarding time to be a physician because he has a chance to make a positive difference during a truly unprecedented situation.
Just like the physicians on the frontlines of the 1980s HIV epidemic who inspired him as a student, he hopes the medical community of today can be a source of reassurance and calm.
“This has been disruptive to every part of life, and it’s caused a lot of fear,” Dr. Wells said.
“As providers, we’re gaining an understanding of the virus and how to treat patients. We have an obligation to do our part, and it’s been very validating to react and learn as this situation evolves.
“And to see the things that are really exciting…like when a patient gets to go home.”