Starting a new job in the middle of a global pandemic is an interesting challenge for any new employee, but what if your job is to care for the health of your community? That’s exactly what Dr. Grace Chou is experiencing as she joined Cal Maritime in the fall of 2020. A native of the greater Washington D.C. area, she attended Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio but chose sunny California to complete her residency at the Sutter Family Practice Residency Program in Sacramento. Dr. Chou came most recently from Stanford Healthcare and Affinity Medical Partners in Pinole, CA where she was the senior physician in primary care for almost twenty years.
What drew you to Cal Maritime?
I became aware of the position for a new medical director from a former colleague, Nurse Practitioner Heather Hutchinson, and had heard many positive comments from her about working at the Student Health Center. She told me how much she enjoys working with the cadets, faculty and staff of Cal Maritime as well as the unique culture of this campus.
Were you concerned about joining a new institution during the pandemic?
Much like everyone else I am concerned about COVID-19 and was unsure what my specific role would be at Cal Maritime during the pandemic. The Health and Safety Task Force has done a laudable job of weathering the vicissitudes that characterized the early days of the pandemic and created a comprehensive plan for keeping the campus as safe as possible for students, faculty, and staff. I am honored to have joined such a dedicated, hard-working group of people.
Many colleges and universities have made headlines for being COVID-19 hotspots. Some have not opened, some have quickly shut down, and some are dealing with outbreaks. We had a very safe fall here with no cases on campus and we’re ready to open for the spring semester. To what do credit our success?
Credit goes to all members of the Cal Maritime community! We appreciate the students who are learning remotely, which is not ideal by any standard, and the students who are fortunate enough to have face-to-face classes for wearing masks, physically distancing, and washing/sanitizing their hands frequently. This is absolutely a group effort where each of us is playing an important role in maintaining campus health and safety.
Looking ahead, are you optimistic about the chances of our student body having access to a vaccine?
In the last two months COVID-19 vaccinations have begun and this welcome development should steer us more towards life as it was in pre-pandemic times. Hopefully it will not be too far in the future before our cadets, faculty and staff ALL have access to a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Fortunately, most of us at the Student Health Center and the campus Police Department have received our first rounds of COVID-19 vaccine and have survived to tell the tale.
How important do you think caring for our mental health is at this point and how is Cal Maritime doing on that front?
I have been impressed with how open the dialogue about mental health is on campus. Learning the skills/providing resources and tools to support good mental health is a critical life lesson and a silver lining brought to the forefront by the pandemic.
The Resiliency Project is dedicated to helping students as well as faculty and staff to thrive in the face of adversity, such as the challenges the pandemic has brought to all our lives. On February 15th we will be rolling out YOU@CSUM which can be accessed online and is a customizable well-being portal. NOD is a research backed app combating loneliness on college campuses and TAOconnect.org (Therapy Assistance Online) is another resource which will be available soon.
As for your own mental health, what is your outlet? How do you decompress and find balance?
I enjoy being outdoors in nature, preferably on the back of a horse. One of my favorite places on earth is the barn where my horse is stabled. There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh hay and wood shavings along with the sound of horses munching happily away. I’m also working on being more consistent with meditation and exercise as I never regret having done either activity. This has been a great time to start!
ABOUT CAL MARITIME
Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus serves nearly 1,000 students and offers undergraduate degrees preparing students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. The new oceanography degree program launched in the fall of 2020. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.