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Illya Karpenko

MCPHS Responds: COVID-19 Efforts of PharmD Student Illya Karpenko Extend Beyond Testing

  • In addition to the countless COVID-19 tests that Illya Karpenko administered at a senior housing center throughout the pandemic, he also contributed something unexpectedly valuable to the residents.

    Illya Karpenko, PharmD ’25, started working at 2Life Communities in Brighton in September 2020 after hearing from his mother, who is also employed at the affordable housing center for low-income seniors, that the facility was understaffed due to fears around the coronavirus. Wanting to help, and since his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) classes were online due to the fully remote instruction of the 2020 fall semester, he took a job at 2Life as a helping hand. His duties initially entailed delivering the residents’ groceries, mail, and laundry, but administrators quickly noticed Ilya for his communications skills. Originally from Ukraine, Illya is fluent in three languages: English, Ukrainian, and Russian. 2Life has a diverse community of residents—some of whom speak no English at all—so when the center opened a flu vaccination clinic in late fall, Illya was asked to be a translator for the Russian-speaking residents receiving the vaccine.

    Impressed with the professional and interpersonal skills that Illya displayed on the flu vaccination team, the 2Life staff—coincidentally, one of the pharmacists is an MCPHS alum—promoted him to the position of COVID-19 test administrator when they began a testing center in January. As test administrator, Illya has been responsible for the testing of all visitors, residents, and staff. His day-to-day involves asking visitors to sign the consent form, providing instruction on how to perform the test, and mixing the solution for rapid (15-minute) results. The rapid tests that 2Life uses have an 89% effectiveness and are locally sourced from BioLabs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Illya says he enjoys working at the testing center because he likes interacting with people and feeling their gratitude. He adds that, aside from his love of chemistry and the variability of a pharmacist’s day, a large reason he chose the PharmD path is his desire to work with patients rather than solely in a lab. He appreciates the latter two aspects in his vaccination team duties at 2Life.

    Based on Ilya’s performance as translator for the flu vaccination team in the fall, his manager asked him to recoup the role when they began COVID-19 vaccinations. Back in February, Illya would dedicate one day a week to help translate for one of two vaccination teams. The teams were made up of two pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, or nurses; two Russian-speaking staff; and two Chinese-speaking staff. Across the five buildings and 934 residents, 94% were vaccinated by mid-March. Once they completed all rounds of vaccinations, Illya was again promoted to work the front desk as well as the testing center.

    Although he has four more years before he becomes a pharmacist, Illya says he did not want to wait until the pandemic was over to help on the healthcare front line. “I felt so proud that I’m part of a big healthcare community because. . .the pharmacists and all other healthcare members work on the front line. They can’t stay home; they interact with people even though it’s very dangerous.” Aside from being short-staffed, the workers at 2Life didn’t even have enough face masks at first. As soon as his mom told him about her work and how lonely the residents felt in their usually vibrant community, Illya knew he wanted to take action. “I wanted to work and do something for people, to also be on the front line.”

    Other than the countless translations and COVID-19 tests that Illya administered, the compassionate future pharmacist contributed something to the seniors beyond the duties of his job description: companionship. Before the pandemic hit, the 2Life Brighton campus, which is the largest of the 2Life Communities, was bustling with activities and communal spaces for people to socialize. “The residents—especially when the pandemic began—felt so lonely because they couldn’t walk outside, they couldn’t meet with each other, and I was the only one they could speak to in their native language,” he says. Many of the residents enjoyed talking with Illya so much that they started bringing him homemade food. He says he always thought he would work in a hospital someday, but his experience at 2Life Communities has made him consider specializing with elderly patients. Similarly, the 2Life staff has joked—perhaps with a hint of truth—that when Illya graduates, they hope he will start the first on-site pharmacy for them. Wherever his path takes him, Illya is sure to put the ‘care’ in ‘healthcare provider’.