It has been a long time since we’ve been known simply as doctors. But, in the midst of this global pandemic, we return to the essence of our jobs: we provide care for people. Before we differentiated into various medical specialties, we shared a commitment to alleviating patients’ suffering. We swore the Hippocratic Oath.
Today, we are called to make another shared commitment. Our families and communities are facing a threat unknown to this country in a hundred years. Across the globe, hospitals from Italy to New York are crumbling under the weight of the new coronavirus. Too many emergency departments are nearing capacity. A deluge of patients is beginning to drown our wards, requiring ventilators we don’t have and masks we can’t find. With neither efficient testing nor protective gear, our own ranks thin, as the colleagues beside us are quarantined one by one. Our care teams have become a revolving door of residents, swapping in and out of duty. And, as we have heard from our peers around the world, this is only the beginning.
Overwhelmingly, the response from health care workers has been inspiring. Retired hospitalists have pledged their service on the frontlines, gynecologists have traded Pap smears for nasal swabs, and medical students prepare to join surge staff prematurely. They and all of our colleagues across borders remind us that no matter the paths of our training, we each have a role to play.
New York has issued a call to action to all health care providers, and we urge all other health systems and states to follow – to recruit a team of volunteers whose skills and vulnerability (i.e., health conditions) are considered in their placement; and only consider conscription if this pool runs dry. But in order to ensure that such recruitment and staffing are pursued in the most ethical and efficient way possible, we must move quickly.
This is a game of dodgeball, and we will undoubtedly lose if we put our most seasoned players out front only to be knocked out early, the rest untrained and unfamiliar with the environments in which they will be working. We need to undertake massive retraining now, while we still have the capacity to learn and to teach. The time to wait is over. If other countries are any indication, every specialty — not just the internists, the intensivists, or the emergency room doctors — will be called upon to engage. And we must all be able to mobilize in an organized and premeditated way.
This isn’t to deny the frustrations of the moment. None of us expected to pause our own training or practice to combat a disease we still misunderstand without all the resources that were promised us. Yes, we need more PPE. Yes, we need more testing. But we also need each other. Medicine is a team sport, and we will only win in this pandemic if we work together. It certainly will bring moments of discomfort, threats to personal safety, and extreme stress. But if we know that we have each others’ backs and show up for each other, we will make it through. We will remember what it means to be doctors first.
Pooja Yerramilli is an internal medicine resident and can be reached on Twitter @p_yerramilli. Sejal Hathi is an internal medicine resident and reached on Twitter @sejalhathi. Divya Yerramilli is a radiation oncologist and can be reached on Twitter @DYerramilli_MD.
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