As I sit here nervously reading the news and awaiting my next shift at the hospital tonight, I cannot help but wonder what the world will look like when the coronavirus pandemic passes. While I cannot predict when this will be, or how much more damage this outbreak will cause, I do know that medicine will never be the same. Here are some thoughts on what could change and the reasons why.
1. White coats. Physicians don’t like wearing them, and now that every employee in the hospital wears a white coat, their function is essentially meaningless. Worse, they are germ catchers that are known to carry pathogens. And honestly, how many doctors wash them every day? Let’s ditch the coats, and if physicians need something to feel special, they can wear MD-themed flair like in other industries.
2. More intensivists. There isn’t just a shortage of respirators, but people who know how to use them. And the training to become one is excessive. There must be a way to fast-track this, because the traditional three years of internal medicine residency and two years of fellowship leads to too long of a lag.
3. Sick days. In my medical school’s clinical years, sick days were always seen as a sign of weakness. I remember during my third-year medicine clerkship getting lots of pushback when I stayed home with bronchitis one day. Think of how many COVID-19 cases could have been prevented if carriers had just stayed home? Health care workers have multiple interactions with patients, many of them already immunocompromised, and their very presence can pose a risk. I already think the world is catching onto this with the mandatory quarantining happening now, but we can do better. And to prevent the next outbreak, we should.
4. Preventive medicine. Time and again, for every disease state, having a healthy lifestyle is a protective factor. Let’s invest in getting people healthy, encouraging them to quit smoking, exercise, vaccinate themselves and their children, and eat healthy, in the same all-hands-on-deck approach we are taking now with COVID-19. The healthier our patients, the better they will do.
5. Respect public health. Information is coming out each day that both China and the U.S. took drastic steps to hide the threat of COVID-19 from the public. Martyrs, including Dr. Li Wenliang, died trying to spread the word about the threat of this virus. Let’s remember their cause by taking steps early, including contact tracing and quarantining, to prevent this from ever happening again.
I am certain you have many more ideas to share in the comments, so let’s hear them.
Jonathan Peters is a neurology resident.
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