Former Salt Lake Community College student Tyler Bearss has had an extraordinarily busy year.
Bearss, who transferred to the University of Utah this spring to major in communications with an emphasis in journalism, juggled school and multiple jobs while working as a first responder.
While attending SLCC, Bearss took his premedical and health science courses, joined The Globe as a photographer and writer, and worked as an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) for a University of Utah clinic.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, life as a first responder became drastically different.
“When this all started, things were changing daily within the healthcare system, making our day-to-day operations seem like a never-ending rollercoaster,” Bearss recalled.
The university opened testing centers at the clinic and required the EMTs to take shifts in the pop-up testing tents. A few months in, the university reassigned Bearss to the emergency department (ED) in the main hospital.
“They gave me a very short time to make the switch, which also brought complications to my living situation. I ended up moving into an Airbnb with a couple co-workers while also working graves in the ED and picking up shifts during the day in the testing tents,” Bearss said. “Thankfully, I never got the virus, but we pretty much lived in constant fear of any sniffles and cleaned daily with bleach just to be cautious.”
Bearss explained that keeping others safe was always his top concern, which came with a lot of stress.
“I always just assumed I had [the virus] and kept my distance,” he said.
For Bearss, working in health care during the height of the pandemic while reporting on current events for The Globe afforded a unique insight.
“It was interesting to have had the experience of working directly with COVID patients and then interviewing people who see it as a nonissue and sometimes didn’t even believe I am a medical worker,” he said.
Bearss continued to work as a Globe staffer through the summer and fall of 2020. In May, the death of George Floyd ignited social justice movements around the country, including many in Salt Lake City that Bearss documented.
“I loved covering protests and news that was impacting not only our community but the entire nation,” he said. “It felt great to see that I was writing about the same things the big news agencies were also covering, and it made me feel like what I was doing had an impact.”
Bearss admitted getting through his last term at SLCC was not easy.
“I ended up doing okay, but not my best semester which I am sure many can relate to. I always just made sure that I was using what time I had to be able to do school, work and study,” Bearss said.
These efforts did not go unnoticed.
“Tyler was impressive from the first day he joined my journalism and news writing class,” said Marcie Young Cancio, a Globe advisor and an assistant professor of journalism and digital media at SLCC. “He has ambitions to become a doctor, studying premed, but he’s also uniquely interested in the world and society in which we live every day. He’s an incredibly hard worker with a drive to learn from the world and sort out how he can contribute to making it a better place.”
Bearss shows no signs of slowing down, currently working three jobs while taking three classes at the University of Utah, but noted his work environment changed drastically over the past year.
“The safety precautions we have put in place and the support we have gotten has been tremendous,” he stated. “We have an amazing staff that has been able to adapt to the constantly changing schedules and protocols so we can all stay healthy and working. Both the clinic and the ED have taken so many precautions it is unbelievable and almost unrecognizable in some regards.”
Being a first responder, Bearss received his vaccine last December. Last month, he administered some of the university’s first publicly available vaccines.
“That was a super cool experience and fun to see how relieved everyone was after getting it,” he said.
Although Bearss now takes classes at the U, there are things he misses about SLCC.
“I enjoyed running around and writing stories and miss it a lot,” Bearss said. “I miss the cheap parking and the amazing people that actually care about you.”