Sneeze, and you miss it: the public’s love for health care workers. This relationship has felt like a true Coronacoaster.
Pre-COVID: physicians were disparaged for the sins of insurers and hospital C-suites.
COVID appears: I was gifted a yard full of signage announcing “Heroes Live Here.”
COVID escalates: the World Health Organization is … defunded?
We’re held in high suspicion, yet somehow we’re still inundated with unofficial pleas for our time. Physicians suddenly have friends-of-friends reaching out for antibiotics. Long-lost relations reappear with questions about rashes. People want medical advice without risking SARS-COV-2 infection.
This advice is impossible to give without some facsimile of the medical history and physical exam— yet there is no end to the requests.
However, when we defend our training as scientists— as the front line for interpreting and disseminating scientific data (something we began long before our first feeble steps with patients)— we are dismissed. When we question the exactitude of statements and defend the right to follow changing evidence, we are dismissed.
We are dismissed, unless we play into the listener’s preconceived political beliefs.
A brilliant pediatric specialist (with a master’s in clinical research from UCSF) recently presented Harvard literature to a safe-school re-opening committee. Instead of being asked about her training, she was asked about her voting history. If you’re a mother today, you’re likely currently half bald from pulling out your hair over The School Question. I understand and will tip my hat-covered head to you in sympathy.
However, physicians have quite a lot of experience in difficult and frustrating decisions: our work is evaluating risk vs. benefit in light of insufficient data. We generally don’t need to be told to “Google it” when we ask for citations.
Up until recently, I’d chalked up these interactions to having a boring sample size.
Up until a congresswoman accused the surgeon general of being “racist” for directing health messages to those at high risk of dying. Until there was a call to oust a Black man for speaking his mind on a subject of his expertise.
Up until the president accused one of the greatest physicians of our time of “ma[king] a lot of mistakes,” for making evidence-based remarks. Until there was a call to oust our most prominent infectious disease specialist for speaking his mind on a subject of his expertise.
The government and the public must stop demanding that we cower in the face of politics. We are scientists, and we must be allowed the freedom to voice our evaluations and concerns.
This is an era of real-time change that requires a long relationship with the scientific method, with peer review, and with the vagaries of data interpretation.
The relationship with science, at least, is one that will survive the Coronacoaster.
Giannina L. Garces-Ambrossi Muncey is a critical care physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com