COVID-19 Pandemic Not Deterring SJU Wrestler From a Career in Medicine

By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – It’s an incredibly stressful time in the medical profession, especially for those on the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

And because that’s the profession Saint John’s University senior Jerod Novak will soon be entering, he’s doing all he can to stay up-to-date on the latest information.

“For me, as a student-nurse, it’s a time to be doing a lot of research,” said the senior nursing major, who wrapped up a four-year wrestling career for the Johnnies with a sixth-place finish at 157 pounds Feb. 28-29 at the NCAA Division III Upper Midwest Regional.

“I already feel like I have a responsibility to be well-informed and to be able to tell people what’s true and what’s not, what’s exaggerated and what isn’t. This is a public health matter first and foremost, and people need to have accurate information.”

Novak, an Aitkin High School graduate who finished his college wrestling career with a 64-43 record, has been drawn to the nursing profession since he was a child – thanks in part to his own medical experiences.

Jerod Novak

“It really began when I was 4,” he recalls. “I had Kawasaki disease (a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of some of the body’s blood vessels) and I was hospitalized for a week. Then I had surgery my ninth-grade year (in high school) and one the year after. And another one last year. I had a lot of great people taking care of me and I wanted to get into that realm myself.

“In fact, I’ve gone on to be able to shadow a couple of the nurses who had taken care of me. I’ve been able to see firsthand how they go about doing their jobs.”

Novak, a three-time National Wrestling Coaches Association All-America Scholar, also spent most of last November in South Africa, volunteering for a group called African Impact – an experience meant to immerse participants in a different culture as they learn how to adjust and provide the best possible medical care.

He was part of a group helping at two clinics serving three Zulu communities near St. Lucia.

“They were the only two clinics serving a population of 70,000 people,” Novak said. “People walked everywhere. There were no cars. So part of what we did was just help people with transportation. And we also worked to help them with their medical needs.

“It was a unique experience and it provided me with a lot of experience when it comes to empathizing and understanding patients from cultures different than my own. The biggest thing that struck me was that these were people with so little and yet they were three times happier than we are here. It taught me a lot about the importance of making the most of the life you have.”

Novak said that experience will serve him well as he goes on with his own career in medicine.

“We’re becoming a very diverse patient population and it will only continue to get more diverse in the years to come,” he said, “so having the experience I got there will be so important.”

Novak also said the experience he got being a member of the wrestling team at Saint John’s the past four years provided him with experience and skills that will translate far beyond the mat.

“I had a great career here,” he said. “I know I could have done more, but I came to Saint John’s to wrestle and get a great education. And my education has always come first and foremost. But the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met through wrestling, will always stick with me.

“I’ll always look back on the unbelievable camaraderie we had on this team. This was a great bunch of guys. If I get married someday, these guys are going to be in my wedding. That’s how close-knit a group we are.”

Johnnie head coach Kevin Schiltz said Novak was a key ingredient in that group’s makeup.

“Jerod was a great competitor on the mat and in the classroom,” Schiltz said. “His presence in the lineup will be hard to replace. He will be a great asset to any nursing department. I have no doubt he will be at the top when it comes to his future career, just as he did in so many ways at Saint John’s.”

Nursing is now his future. And though these are anxious times in the medical profession, and for society in general, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has not made him question his future career path in the slightest.

“That’s exactly why I’m going into (nursing) – to help people,” he said. “I’m not scared. I’m not worried. I’m worried for members of my family. But that just makes me want to do this even more.

“We all have a desire to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. And that’s what I have the chance to do.”

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