Where does one begin as we charge into a third year of a pandemic? Hospitalists have leaped hurdle after hurdle to care for COVID-19 patients and those we cared for in congregate living and acute-care-at-home programs. Supply, bed, and workforce shortages weren’t the only obstacles we faced. There’s been a shortage of patience, compassion, empathy, and respect as well. All these are a toil to our spirits and a challenge to our identity as hospitalists.
Our shared mission has allowed us to emerge triumphant, but not without collateral damage. Our colleagues have left health care, retired early, or fallen ill with the virus. Burnout is rampant, a threat to the health of our specialty and our communities. There’s a dire need to support our teams and our hospitalists.
As I entered the role of SHM president, I spoke to Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and its message that our unique paths lead us to a common place. During the past two years, that common place is SHM, where we can come together and address our struggles, tackle our challenges, and celebrate our achievements. Yet, during surge after surge, hospitals and SHM struggled to find the tactics to support our teams. How do we lead through this epic struggle when nothing ever seems to be enough? How should SHM support us on the front line?
I’m taken back to my niece’s 8th-grade graduation. Her math teacher gave the best graduation address I’ve ever heard. His advice rang true for me then, as I hope it rings true for you now.
- The world is full of many views. Don’t be afraid to express yourself.
- Learn a team sport. Witness the power of shared goals.
- Learn an individual sport. Discover your potential.
- Accomplish something first thing in the morning. It sets the tone for the day.
- Learn to cook, do laundry, and be independent. These practical life skills teach you responsibility.
- Read the classics. Learn about the human condition.
- Have a mentor. Grow.
- Emulate others. Role models inspire you to be a better person.
This is advice to lead us through our growth journey, and perhaps further, as we begin to emerge from this devastating pandemic.
In many ways, it’s back to the basic fundamentals we must build, or rebuild, into our lives and our hospital practices. So many of us have built walls around ourselves, and this advice can help break down those walls. With these words of wisdom, we can emerge, albeit battered, hopefully not broken.
Wave after wave of the pandemic has left me weary and spent, full of shame and guilt for not solving our problems or soothing our pains. No matter the model we devised or the resources we obtained, the pandemic continued to take its toll. I confessed to a colleague that I felt I’d failed my team. They were tired and disillusioned. He said, “We know you’re trying, and that’s enough…seeing your face here already makes me feel better.”
In these and future times, lean on your mentors. My mentor, a retired hospital CEO, was there for me every time I reached out. When we met last, hearing my despair, he wept for me—a vulnerability I didn’t expect, and one I often hold back. His tears gave me strength. We need that strength to find our way, again.
Frost and my niece’s teacher would have celebrated the way our unique paths and divergent roads have allowed us to develop our individual potential. They’d also be elated that we’ve found a common space in hospital medicine and at SHM, a place where we become a team with shared goals. Without realizing our individual potential and without the power of shared goals, we would not have gotten through these past two years.
Change and adaptation are ever part of hospital medicine. It’s time to forge new paths. Continue setting the tone for a meaningful day and developing the life skills we need to care for ourselves and others. Reflect on these past experiences, yours, and everyone’s around you. Hold dear the human condition. COVID-19 will not be our last challenge.
Be here for our patients. Be here for yourself. Be here for each other. #HowWeHospitalist.
Well stated Jerome. You always had a creative way of framing the challenging situations and instigating usable solutions; one of the hallmarks of great leadership.
Admittedly, I too shed lots of tears over the past 2-years; I suspect more than I did in the preceding 2 decades of being a hospitalist. Never before in 22 years as a hospitalist was I so overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy (until this COVID-19 Pandemic). In fact, being a hospitalist (in the critical care arena) simply proved to be too much for me; after 22 years as a practicing hospitalist, I recently lowered my stethoscope…partly in defeat.
Now I serve as CMO in a large health system. Indeed, the stressors remain ever present and the challenges are great. But that is par for the course in healthcare. That is expected. We are making really tough decisions and guiding the care of some of the most acutely ill patients. Hospital Medicine during the pandemic, however, proved to be an entire next level of stress that I frankly did not anticipate. Doubt any of us did. It took me off guard.
Fortunately, I finally started to to be reflective a few weeks ago. It has not been straightforward, but its been helpful and necessary.
Jerome, this article is timely and even more, it is usable advice for our colleagues. Thanks.