What have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic? And how could your hard-earned experience and newfound knowledge help family physicians in the 22nd century and beyond?
“The pandemic is a huge historical event and it’s really having an impact on family medicine,” says Crystal Bauer, MLS, manager of the AAFP Foundation’s Center for the History of Family Medicine (CHFM). “We want to capture what’s going on now, while it’s happening, while it’s fresh.”
To obtain oral histories – of value now and for the future – Bauer is conducting brief interviews with family medicine doctors, faculty members, and students. While perspectives differ, common themes are coming through: Healthcare disparities are rampant, telemedicine offers benefits, and healthcare providers must also take care of themselves.
“COVID-19 has really exposed, in a very bad way, the healthcare disparities that we face in America,” says Baharak Tabarsi, MD, medical director of quality for Valleywise Community Health Center in Phoenix and clinical assistant professor for the hospital’s residency program. “How do we resolve the structural racism that exists in medicine? Perhaps it’s an opportunity for us. What’s that saying by Maya Angelou? ‘When you know better, you do better.’”
Tabarsi and others interviewed for the CHFM project say one positive presented by the pandemic is the opportunity to gain valuable perspective into patients’ lives, thanks to telemedicine.
“The beauty of telemedicine was that for the first time I could see patients in their home,” she says. “It did something for me. It's different when you can see them in their environment.”
Paul Lazar, MD, an attending physician at McLaren Family Medicine Residency in Flint, Mich., agrees.
“One of the things the residents and I have noticed is that when you’re doing telemedicine, particularly if you have a video link, you get a different window into the patient’s life,” he says. “You see their home. You see what’s in their home, who’s in their home. You see their pets. So in a way, it changes, it humanizes, the relationship.”
For Megan Haughton, a fourth-year medical student at Pacific Northwest University in Yakima, Wash., the value of relationships has come through again and again during the pandemic, along with the need to stay connected and empathetic.
“I’m continually learning to ask questions with kindness and curiosity rather than judgment,” she says, “and realizing we’re all trying our best through this time.”
One of the big takeaways from the pandemic is the importance of self-care – healthcare professionals throughout the world are suffering from emotional and physical exhaustion.
“When we first started to discuss flattening the curve and social distancing, I began reading the history of the 1918 pandemic,” says Andrew Slattengren, DO, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. “So much history from that time looks at larger impacts and doesn’t dive down to the personal level.”
Slattengren, one of the first to participate in the CHFM’s pandemic oral history project, has also studied the H1N1 outbreak. Through his research – and his experience – he’s discovered a few tips that might help you now and other family physicians in the future:
1. Gain all the knowledge you can. “Most of us in medicine are naturally curious and have an aptitude for lifelong learning. A pandemic puts gas on the fire. Consume as much good information as you can.”
2. Take care of yourself. “Rest when you can rest. Know that your shifts will be difficult and draining – both physically and mentally. Have outlets, physical and mental, for when you’re away from work.”
3. Make sure the colleagues around you – physicians, nurses, aides, and learners – are doing #1 and # 2. “Reaching out to people with a simple, ‘How are you doing?’ leads to incredible insights and helps you help others; you gain a better perspective.”
4. Know that you will make it through. “Although you may not see a light at the end of the tunnel, it will come. All things will end. Use all the tools at your disposal to take care of yourself and those around you.”
“It’s so easy to get lost in the bigger picture,” Slattengren adds. “Hopefully we can take this time to refocus on ourselves, our families, our close circles, and have gratitude for the strength of our connections.”
Capture this moment in time. Schedule your 15-30 minute COVID-19 oral history interview now.