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COVID-19 is not the first widespread disease to plague the planet, and it’s certainly not the first Taylor alum Dr. Colleen Kraft (‘98) has faced throughout her career as an infectious disease expert.
Kraft attributes much of her ambition in her field to her time at Taylor, where she received her Biology Pre-Med BA degree. The support and experience she received at Taylor was formational to her education and career going forward.
As associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, she also served on the initial team of physicians treating patients with Ebola at the hospital.
Armed with this expertise amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, Kraft has appeared in numerous news stories since the beginning of April, providing the world with insight on the situation.
Tenacity through the Tears
On April 8, 2020, the Los Angeles Times highlighted Kraft’s work with the team responsible for protecting healthcare workers at the 11 hospitals across the Emory healthcare system. The team works to ensure the workers are safe from infection and avoiding burnout while fighting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we are on the front lines, not just caring for patients, but for healthcare workers who are caring for patients,” Kraft said in the article. “That’s the niche of infection prevention.”
Kraft has often worked 15-hour days since February. The story featured Kraft’s tearful vulnerability at work while commending her hopeful attitude and serenity in the face of panic.
Prepared for Battle
On April 13, 2020, NBC News interviewed Kraft for the series On the Front Lines. The segment covered how Emory University Hospital staff used the lessons they learned during the Ebola outbreak to anticipate the influx of COVID-19 patients, as the hospital has treated over 600 COVID-19 patients since early March.
“The scale of this is so different from Ebola,” Kraft said. “Ebola containment worked, right? You just had to keep it in one place and never let it out. This (virus) has community transmission - we can’t link all the cases to where they started, and so if that is the case, then that makes everything suspect and everything we touch suspect.”
The segment ends on an optimistic note, with senior investigative and legal correspondent Cynthia McFadden saying the hospital’s preparedness has provided “precious hope and expertise on the front lines.”
Since then, Kraft has appeared in a variety of other media stories covering COVID-19, including her own opinion piece featured on CNN discussing the best ways to defend against the virus. Her expert advice and perspective has provided valuable information for viewers seeking news about the pandemic.
Small College, Big Dreams
Kraft first showed interest in infectious diseases as a high schooler in the early 1990s. The HIV crisis had the attention of the public and the media, and she followed the crisis in the news while also diving into medical-themed novels.
In college, Kraft’s passion for science and serving people led her to declare a Biology Pre-Med major at Taylor University. She said Taylor’s environment taught her to be ambitious and to seek out ways to push herself.
“I learned a lot from Taylor, I really learned how to study there… I felt very challenged in the coursework,” Kraft said. “I also felt that while Taylor was a small college, I felt that there were a lot of opportunities, and I was also motivated to make my own opportunities.”
One such opportunity was her research practicum with her now-retired professor of biology, Dr. Tim Burkholder, which she completed during the summer after her freshman year. Kraft fell in love with research through this experience and couldn’t decide whether she loved research or working with patients more.
Another opportunity she pursued was an internship with Harvard Professor of Environmental Physiology Joseph Brain, who she discovered in the Taylor alumni directory after her junior year.
Kraft said Burkholder’s mentorship showed her that even in Taylor's small setting she could “dream big.” In fact, she dreamed so big she could not decide what she wanted to do after graduation and was accepted into a PHD program, an MD program and a masters in public health program.
“I think you get so much personal opportunity (at Taylor) because class sizes are small,” Kraft said. “It’s really great to have people encouraging you to do that kind of stuff - I had nothing but support and mentorship while I was there. I didn’t have to go to an Ivy League school to be accepted into a PhD program at Harvard.”
Kraft graduated Magna Cum Laude with her BA degree from Taylor. She then chose to get her MD from Indiana University School of Medicine and her MSc from Emory University.
Faith Amidst Fear
Taylor’s mission is to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need. This mission is especially true in a global crisis.
Kraft said she wants to be the “hands and feet of Christ” by relieving suffering. Between her work with the Ebola outbreak and COVID-19, Kraft has both witnessed and experienced profound stress and pain. In the midst of the heaviness and uncertainty, Kraft finds an anchor in her faith in God.
“It doesn't matter what profession you're in or what you do with your life - you're going to have times of significant stress,” Kraft said. “So is the framework that you fall back onto that God knows you, that He wants to teach you, refine you, and He loves you? Those are the things that will get you through those times of severe stress.”
As Kraft learns to navigate her own mental health struggles and work-life boundaries, she believes her vulnerabilities have helped her build relationships. She believes her honesty about her pain - even shedding tears at work - has made her into a more empathetic and approachable person.
Overall, her encouragement to Christian college students is to be mindful about what God may be trying to teach them as we wait out this unprecedented season.
“‘Don't waste the crisis’ is something I've been telling myself a lot,” Kraft said. “Are there things you can change about yourself during this time? Is there a new perspective you can gain that you may not have been open to during this time? Learn about yourself and what God is doing in your life, and be open to new perspectives.”