WILMINGTON, N.C. (WNCN) – Jean-Luc Banks is a third-year medical student at UNC and is working at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. He said it was difficult to not be able to help people during the first three months of the pandemic. Many students like him weren’t able to work in hospitals due to a shortage of personal protective gear.

When Banks was finally able to see patients, hurdles continued to pop up.

“You forget that you have to go see other patients as well, so you have to protect yourself, the patients around you, as well as your family members. And that emotional strain at the start of the pandemic was probably the hardest part,” Banks said.

The Wilson native didn’t lose sight of why he is there.

“In my time in medical school, I’ve found that I want to be more of an advocate and an ally for different issues that systemically affect my patients so that I can use my education and everything that I’m doing during the day to really create some sustainable, effective change,” Banks said.

Since the pandemic, UNC’s medical school has seen a 12-percent increase in in-state applications, signifying the desire to be closer to home. Applicants are writing about a desire to fight disease and health disparities, being a part of scientific discovery, and, like Banks, be future community advocates.

Banks has advice for future students, as this pandemic means their work as a doctor will be different than it has in years past.

“This is not the first pandemic by any means, and there will be more to come. And so, start feeling it out early and start pushing towards it because in my future, and their future, we will probably have another one and we just have to be prepared,” he said.