A Day in the Life of an Essential Worker

The writer’s sister works as a microbiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. One of the hardest hit by the Pandemic in New Jersey.


Courtesy of the CDC website

A microbiologist completes a blood culture test in a lab.

Julianne Henry, Journalism Student

Elizabeth Henry’s alarm goes off telling her to get up. It is still dark outside. No sun, no birds, the majority of the country is still asleep. It is 4:30 am and this is the start of Ms. Henry’s day. 

 Elizabeth Henry works as a microbiologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. During the current pandemic, she and her co-workers are doing their part as essential workers to help combat Covid-19 by running labs and testing the samples the hospital receives.

 Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ), like many other organizations, switched their employees to a 12-hour work schedule with reduced staff to minimize unnecessary contact with a significant number of people. The schedule used by RWJ makes it so shifts of employees rotate every 12 hours. The employees work for 4 days and get the remaining three days of the week off. 

This system will stay in place for the foreseeable future until circumstances change. Until then this is a day in the life of an essential worker.

4:30 am- Wake Up:

Many health care professional’s days start before the sun is up. Nurses and doctors have shifts that start in the early morning. For Elizabeth Henry, her shift starts at 6:30. However, she lives 45 minutes away from her workplace requiring her to wake up even earlier than most. “I wake up, take a shower, get dressed, and grab breakfast,” she said.”I have to leave by 5:30 to make sure I’m not speeding down the road on the way there.”

6:30 am- Clock in

Robert Wood Johnson is classified as a Level 1 trauma center. They are fully equipped with the supplies and staff to handle almost any disaster that can hit New Jersey. The hospital has been working to control the pandemic since the very beginning of the spread. Labs are ordered, samples are taken, and everything is sent down to the micro lab. 

“ There is a separate COVID lab that we have to walk back and forth to if we need to process anything,” said Ms. Henry, “We have to wear a gown, mask, glove, and footies every time we enter and immediately throw them out when we leave.” 

The microbiologist works tirelessly every day in conjunction with nurses and doctors to provide care to their patients. According to local news networks RWJ recently celebrated 500th discharged COVID patient from the hospital.

12:30 PM- Lunch

A heart-warming outcome of current circumstances is the rallying support from the public towards essential workers. People have shown their appreciation in many ways such as drive-by parades, evening shoutouts, and donations. Companies do their part by providing their services to help out. 

For example, people have paid for lunch to be delivered to specific departments at RWJ. Jersey Mike’s frequent supplier things like this. “Every day there is food downstairs…I always ask Sheila (Elizabeth’s co-worker) to bring me up a sandwich,” Henry said.

7:00 PM-Clock Out

 After a long day of work, the employees head home. However, at the end of an already long 12-hr day, it is easy for the micro lab to still be running causing the employees to work overtime. 

“Half the time is still stuck on the bench when I’m supposed to be leaving but the stains have to get done,” Henry said.. 

Microbiologists along with all other essential work hard to keep us healthy and safe. They sacrifice their time and energy to help protect the public. At the end of Elizabeth’s day, she will finish for work, drive home, say hi to her kids, and fall asleep ready to do it all again tomorrow.