Physician assistant by day, police officer by night: How one man is risking his life to help others

·4 min read

For the past 22 years, Dennis Canale has devoted his life to helping people as both a physician assistant at Staten Island University Hospital Northwell Health in New York and a detective with the NYPD Emergency Service Unit.

As a physician assistant on an extended critical care floor, Canale tells Yahoo Life there is no way to predict how each day will end amid the coronavirus pandemic. “A day that goes by where all our patients make it through the day is a huge internal celebration,” he says. Canale says its a “very intense” atmosphere, as the amount of “rapid responses and code blues” have escalated over the past couple of months.

While patients remain the top priority, Canale also discusses how crucial it is to make sure the families of each patient are receiving the attention they need and have full involvement in their loved ones’ care. Staff members maintain constant communication with the families, with the help of the hospital’s psychiatry and psychology teams.

As someone who has been through several terrorist events in New York City, Canale has experienced more trauma and loss than most. Being present at Ground Zero, he compares the coronavirus outbreak to 9/11 due to the number of deaths that have resulted from it.

“9/11 was like watching one big horror movie, this is like watching a horror series on a TV show,” he says.

Canale says there’s a high emotional and physical toll frontline workers experience as they are “putting in so many hours of work into these patients and pulling them off the edge so many times.”

He explains that in addition to losing patients, it’s difficult to also see his coworkers struggle.

“The nurses upstairs putting in hours of time to manage these patients, the people that help out on the floor, the clerical workers, the cleaners, the construction staff here, the doctors, the physicians assistants...everybody has their breakdown moment,” he says.

Canale has a unique perspective on how his two jobs play on the same philosophy.

“With the police department ... people go, ‘How do guys you run towards gunfire? How do you run towards collapsing buildings?’ You don’t think about yourself ... you don’t sit there and have that second thought, that worry. Just like here. Some patient goes bad, you take the proper PPE precautions and then you run right in, to do what you’re trained and skilled to do,” he explains.

Despite the tragedies Canale has witnessed, he is starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

“We definitely feel the numbers improving ... The amount of beds are starting to creep open, which is a good thing. We’re starting to see less people in-house on ventilators, which is a positive thing,” he says.

Video produced by Stacy Jackman

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want daily lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.