National Clinician Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
It goes without saying that the Coronavirus pandemic was very stressful. It was a unique position to be in as a chief medical resident in New York City, at the heart of the first wave, going back and forth between taking care of patients and taking care of doctors. What resonates with me most from that time was the uncertainty of it all – not knowing much about the virus, knowing very little about how to treat it, and having no idea when it would all end. I felt that uncertainty as a clinician, and even more acutely as a support for the residents. Uncertainty is not a comfortable feeling for physicians, and especially for the younger generation of doctors who have been raised on so much more precise knowledge than prior generations. As chiefs we had to provide emotional support for the residents as they helplessly watched a lot of patients suffer, and a lot of patients die. But we were also in a unique position to be able to help – to mobilize resources to underserved patient populations, to coordinate PPE donations to our safety net hospital, and even to help arrange for a team of military physicians and nurses to volunteer at one of our hardest hit hospitals.
There was a certain adrenaline to the moment that was driven by a common goal. Residency in general is a long, tiring slog – working 80+ hour weeks, seeing a lot of sickness and suffering for the first time; the only difference is, in normal times people don’t really pay attention to what we’re doing. The attention from the city, the media, friends/family, and the world was definitely a boost. I saw it in the residents too – some of our more introverted or less engaged residents were all of a sudden stepping up, forming committees to lead PPE efforts or coordinate donations. In a lot of ways the energy and the morale was higher than I had seen it in the months leading up to the pandemic. I worry more about the current peak we are in. Pandemic fatigue affects doctors too, and they are getting less of a boost than they did back in March. No more 7pm claps or free meals, etc. The case loads are picking up, but the energy is wearing thin, and we really have to be providing mental health support to front line staff, including residents.
My time at Ida Crown was foundational to how I have grown in the years since. My teachers and peers gave me the courage to try new things and see different versions of myself. The relationships that I formed there continue to sustain me, and the school helped instill in me core values that guide me to this day.