A place for covoptimism?

Whether you are an optimist, a pessimist, or a strict realist is likely to impact how you would project potential effects of COVID on the post-COVID world.

I would argue that from the medical-practical perspective, the three attitudes above are not mutually exclusive. As we often conclude when reading pro- and con- arguments for a new legislature, unrefined reality allows for enough mixed data and scattered observations upon which to base and justify either stance.

My approach here is more of realistic anticipation: what changes to our global emergency care practice environment may result from what we are experiencing today? Undoubtedly, such changes will affect trainees a lot more than seasoned EM providers.

Telemedicine

While by no means a new thing, Telemedicine has advanced exponentially over the last few months and has come to the forefront of medical care in terms of its scope, breadth, and practical applications.

I am what my spouse would call “technologically challenged” (if she were to put it kindly). Yet even a tech-doofus (me) has had to dabble in Telehealth over the last few weeks – both inside my ED and to reach patients thousands of miles away.

Local Resource Preparedness

Everyone now realizes that you need to have tucked away but keep readily available roughly two N-95 masks per healthcare worker per day for three hundred and sixty-five days, amen.

Which changes in how entire healthcare systems are financed are necessary is a huge comprehensive topic. But point-preparedness, as in being ready at the actual place where you and I live and work locally, is a much easier thing to wrap our heads around and become directly involved in.

Provider Cross-Training

I do not know if golf practice makes you better at playing basketball or swimming at karate. But I do know that we have become so specialized, it is almost like there are hand specialists nowadays who will only deal with the left index finger.

COVID has shown all of us that it is not helpful to only possess knowledge and skills within the comfort zone of your specialty or sub-specialty.

As an EM doc, I have been okay with my ventilator and ARDS management skills. But the last few weeks have been extraordinary in reading up on anything from the forgotten basics of epidemiology and virology to palliative care. And that’s a good habit of keeping up for the future.

Sorting Out The Trash In Medical Literature

It is one thing to be able to verbally shred a New England or a Lancet paper at a leisurely journal club; it is quite another to be able to apply new (or old) reported research to clinical practice without harming anyone.

In the times of YouTube anxieties and misinformation, the latter task becomes even more crucial yet difficult. COVID controversies ranging from antimalarials to early intubation are a prime example.

But the good news with COVID is that I think we have just been handed the requirement for a free refresher course on how to appraise medical literature critically. We have to do this under pressure, without much time, and, arguably, fighting with our own natural inclination that “to do something is better than doing nothing.”

Patient Privacy and Empty EDs - As They Were Intended?

These points are controversial. But with medical information privacy requirements being loosened in many locations and with fewer non-COVID patients going to EDs, it is a valid question to ask: is right now how things should have always been?

Whether certain patients do not belong to an ED is a complex topic. Finding the golden middle between protecting confidential patient information and enabling providers to reach and treat patients most efficiently is likewise easier said than done.

For now, I am just inviting you to think about it.

Viruses In Focus

After decades and billions poured into research, we finally have stuff against HIV. Hepatitis and the herpes families are the two runners up, plus we developed a few effective vaccines like the MMR – but that’s about it really.

So much time and focus have gone into killing bacteria, we have somewhat neglected the other big guy. Until now.

The Cure For The Common Burnout

Emotional exhaustion may indeed be the key factor in professional burnout for emergency care providers. But other factors contribute as well – including feeling unappreciated or not needed, and work seems routine and mundane.

We now have COVID, which has reignited the fire for many EM providers, no matter how deep are those post-N95 facial marks. Otherwise, why would one fly to New York or elsewhere right now “to help”?

Frontline medicine certainly takes its toll on you. But hardly anyone in our specialty should feel not needed or unappreciated anymore.

The few changes I have listed come from a very long list. Whether they will prove to be overwhelmingly positive remains to be seen. Of course, future benefits do not negate the tremendous harm and suffering the pandemic has already brought and will continue to bring in the months to come.

But one thing is for sure: COVID is not the last time we are dealing with something like this. What your attitude and knowledge will be then, is up to you.

Cite this article as: Anthony Rodigin, USA, "A place for covoptimism?," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 8, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/05/08/a-place-for-covoptimism/, date accessed: January 15, 2021

Why Me? The Story of My Burnout – Part 3

Why Me? The Story of My Burnout - Part 3

The story continues from link (Part 2).

I must take a deep breath. I must ask for help.

The Self-Knowledge Path

I could go away and work in another hospital. We have many good hospitals in Brazil. Some even employ emergency physicians who are local graduates. I really could. In truth, there would be no shame if I left the hospital. But I decided to give it one more try.

I just want to make clear that there is no single route back from burnout. It is a multifactorial treatment. You need emotional power. Some you may already have, or you can develop with a mental health specialist’s help. Some you will gather alone, or family and friends will help you to recover if you are lucky enough. Read, talk, discuss, and share with your community. You will never be alone because it is the system that is inflicting moral injury and burning you, and everybody, out.

Each person needs different means and tools to recover. We have to acknowledge that not everybody can afford all of them. Not everybody can pay for a therapist or even leave their work. I was one of the lucky ones. I could.

I promised myself and others that I would get better, and I wouldn’t give up. I felt obliged to improve the system that had harmed me. The system that made me afraid; afraid that I would fail.

It was not easy! It wasn’t “just not thinking about it.” It wasn’t “just a phase.” It wasn’t “just yoga.” It wasn’t “just wanting.” It was more than all the above. It took a long journey of self-knowledge: Who was I? What did I want? How could I achieve that?

Gradually, intertwined with relapses,​ the healing process began. I returned to therapy. Thanks to all support from my amazing friends, -virtual friends, present friends, distant friends- mentors, mentees, students, residents, followers, I was overwhelmed with affection and understanding. There were messages of encouragement everywhere I looked and listened. I did not plan this. It happened organically from across our community, and sometimes unintentionally, as I reached out to others, who always found time to help me.

Kindness can save a life! If you feel so, just go around saying how important people are in your life. I assure you that the kindness and positive comments of these people saved me.

I improved gradually in small steps. With empathy and determination, I took one step after another. Each step led me to find new perspectives. With each small victory​, I felt a small but important​ celebration in my heart​. ​

Yet, I wanted to make sense of it all. How to endure the moral injury? How to continue working here? I desperately needed to make sense of my job.

Why Me?

jule santos

In addition to therapy, I went on leave. I flew away and spent time in Mozambique, an LMIC, with many more difficulties, compared to Brazil. They were just beginning to develop the first emergency medicine residency program, and they had a lot more work to do. They were seemingly starting from scratch, and they had fewer resources than we had in Brazil. I found their enthusiasm and resourcefulness more inspiring than I thought possible.

It wasn’t because I could see how lucky we are in Brazil, but they did their best even though they were aware of their problems. I knew that there was no way that I could give up after seeing them.

I returned to Brazil, where people were eager to work with me. I felt they had missed me. They showed me that I made a difference.

I was fortunate to see my work environment improved. The administration had started to ‘get it,’ and now they cared about what we do. They realized that efficient systems saved money, so they were helping us achieve better care for our patients. Our department was renovated. They hired more people, and we got better medications. It all helped. It felt as though they were listening.

So recovering from burnout not only helped me to accept that problems are a part of the system but also made me realize people make the system. Therefore we can change it to accommodate our needs. Not the contrary. We need to END moral injury by addressing it and demanding solutions! We don’t need to be resilient to it!

In the beginning, I understood that I needed to be ​present​ in all my tasks, but that’s a challenge in the hectic world of emergency medicine. In truth, we are not as good at multitasking as we let ourselves think. However, we get better at prioritizing and scheduling tasks as we develop as clinicians. More importantly, we learn to give each task the proper time and attention it deserves.

As time passed, my most challenging feelings diminished. I redefined my responsibilities and my choices, redefined my motivation, my ambition, my purpose. I adjusted my expectations. I found a new power.

Then, ​gradually​, the love for Emergency Medicine and the energy to become the doctor I aspire came back. However, I still had to face my demons and deal with the most painful side of emergency medicine: Delivering bad news.

“Most of the time, the fact that you care is enough”​ is one of the most effective pieces of advice that I ever received. It helped me relieve the intense pain that I didn’t even know it was there. I still remind others and myself of it regularly.

For example, I dealt with the tragic case of pediatric cardiac arrest, brought in by another medical team. We did CPR over an hour, as this was a very delicate situation with a child. At the debriefing, I was careful with both teams from the other hospital and our own. Although I was worried about having the conversation I did, I was shocked and stunned to hear the reply. The doctor shrugged and said:

– Yeah, right. Can I go now?

He was in a rush. He didn’t even want to hear the debriefing. He didn’t appear to care! The disdain broke my spirit, and the whole team felt the same anger. It made everything harder to cope.

I took a deep breath, thanked the team for all the effort, asked them to prepare the body, and went to the waiting room to talk once again with the father. I had been there a lot of times, talking through everything as we were trying to resuscitate, so he already knew me, and immediately recognized my expression of bad news. I sat next to him and told him everything we did. I was trying to remedy the anguish while allowing time for understanding.

– There was nothing more we could do. I’m so sorry, but he died.

The father stared at the floor for a while.

– My wife is eight months pregnant. What should I do now?

He was in despair. Next came tears. I waited. Present. Then, he looked at me with honest:

– Thank you, doctor, for everything you did.

I will never forget them.

“Most of the time, the fact that you care is enough.”

I can’t stop people from getting sick. I can’t even guarantee who will survive, much less, meet the expectations of families. I can’t fix all the system by myself. Yet, I can show that we care, which is now my purpose and mantra.

Now, when I have to deliver bad news, I try my best to be there and look in the eyes. I patiently wait to make sure until there is no doubt. I don’t try to hide my feelings, ​and I finally feel I’m always telling the truth:

– We are doing everything we can.

I ensure that they know​ we care.​ I make a difference there. My pain eases as theirs alleviates even a little.

“Most of the time, the fact that you care is enough.”

I can’t stop people from getting sick. I can’t even guarantee who will survive, much less, meet the expectations of families. I can’t fix all the system by myself. Yet, I can show that we care, which is now my purpose and mantra.

Finding My Ikigai

ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” In English, the word roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” Each individual’s ikigai is personal and specific to their lives, ​values​ , and ​beliefs​. It reflects the ​inner self​ and faithfully expresses that, while simultaneously creating a mental state​ in which the individual feels at ease.

The thing I like most about ikigai is that it is for everyone. You have to understand yourself to achieve this deeply. Seeking self-knowledge can be the most challenging part.

– Am I doing something that I love?
– Am I doing something that the world needs?
– Am I doing something that I am good at?
– Am I doing something that I can be paid for?

YES!

So, where am I now?

Well, I still love heart attacks! I love the look of amazement of the interns when we save a life. I love the self-satisfaction of the residents when they can do something correctly for the first time. I love how happy the team gets when we can do perfect resuscitation. I love the peculiarities of each patient, their life, culture, and beliefs. I love to learn something new every day. ​And that’s why Emergency Medicine!

I love heart attacks! But when we can't save, when the system fails, when the patient dies but I feel that I softened the pain, even a little bit, by showing that we care, I know I can endure.

And that's why, me.

Cite this article as: Jule Santos, Brasil, "Why Me? The Story of My Burnout – Part 3," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 6, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/01/06/emergency-medicine-why-me-the-story-of-my-burnout-part-3/, date accessed: January 15, 2021

Why Me? The Story of My Burnout – Part 2

Why Me? The Story of My Burnout - Part 2

The story continues from link (Part 1)

I had already been tired and sad. Now, I was also feeling wronged.

The Dangers of Burnout

It meant that heart attacks stopped being exciting. I started to resent them as they now caused me to suffer. I have nowhere else to refer the patient, or the specialty doctors criticized me. 

They mistreated me, perhaps because of a lack of trust, or they too were damaged by the system. Maybe it was about payments and expenses. I did not know, but the effort of constant fighting was exhausting.

The system hit me hard. It was clear: irritation, stress, discontent, three quarrels with my team and my superiors in one week. I was burned out. That was putting my good work at risk.

Sad person

I felt like everything I was doing was meaningless. I aspired to become the best possible doctor through studying, traveling and sharing, but I always returned to the conditions that made me feel that all was in vain. My stagnant environment was full of burnout people, unjust deaths and endless problems regarding insufficient resources versus higher and higher demand.

That saddest thing in medicine is a doctor without hope.

I felt that each patient brought more pain than joy, even when we had excellent outcomes. It made me sick. I felt like I had unlearned hope. To make matters worse, I could not contain these emotions.

One day a patient asked me, “Am I going to die, doctor?”

I had just seen the results. It suggested cancer, but what would happen now? We wanted an expert to lead him, necessitating an evaluation by the oncologist. Still, the oncologist would not see the patient until the biopsy result, despite the imaging strongly suggested cancer. That meant we had to ask the general surgeon to do the biopsy, but in return, he asked us to refer the patient to another surgical specialty, based on the location of the tumor. So we tried, but this type of specialist did not serve in our region.

The patient’s and our growing stress and conflict eventually led the general surgeon to do the biopsy, but the patient had to wait 30 to 45 more days for the result. Only then, he would be able to go back to the oncologist. When he did, tho oncologist asked us for phenotyping. One more week passed until we finally get the patient to oncology, only to be declared too sick for treatment.

I had experienced this so many times before. Meanwhile, patients were getting more sick, and repeatedly ended up in the emergency department, sometimes got admitted, only to treat infections or pain. In the end, they were sent by the internist to die in our emergency room. They could not do end-of-life care properly. I frequently talked to an enraged family, not because of cancer, but because they were led to believe there was a chance of treatment.

My opinion is that the problem wasn’t lying to the patient about cure cancer, but how often the system don’t even give them this chance of a fight, lying about a chance to treat, but in really being just harmful for everybody because disorganization, corruption, and for didn’t care.

We do not cure death. Ever.

Sometimes we can prolong life. We hope for a good life with meaning, so that they can enjoy some more years, months, weeks or days of celebration, and prepare their wishes for a decent death with their family.

My opinion is that this realization is important not only when we talk about cancer, but any condition, even like a heart attack. We do not cure death, ever.

Coming back to that new patient, the words and the questions bounced in my head:

– Am I going to die, doctor?
– Don’t think about it now. We will take care of you.

I don’t know what the patient saw in me. To me, It felt like lying. When I said we would do our best, it wasn’t me but the system lying. Even if we as emergency physicians or I as an individual did everything possible, I felt the system didn’t care. I knew the system could do better. What could I say when I knew that the journey I want for my patients is so unachievable in the system I work in. I no longer knew what to say under these circumstances, and I felt the patient recognized that in my soul.

I felt hurt, guilty, beaten, and bitter.

That saddest thing in medicine is a doctor without hope.

I never thought this could happen to me. Not with me! How could this happen to me? I was in love with Emergency Medicine! Wasn’t I?

I’d said a billion times how I loved Emergency Medicine and didn’t know how to live without it. I’d shared my passion, convincing others that Emergency Medicine was the answer. Now, it felt like Emergency Medicine was killing me. And worst, I felt that I was not doing good for my patients as my lies were hurting them.

I must take a deep breath. I must ask for help. ...to be continued...

Cite this article as: Jule Santos, Brasil, "Why Me? The Story of My Burnout – Part 2," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 3, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/01/03/why-me-the-story-of-my-burnout-part-2/, date accessed: January 15, 2021

My Road to Emergency Medicine

Helene Morakis

MS4 at Queen’s School of Medicine

Incoming EM resident at the University of British Columbia

My first shadowing exposure to clinical medicine was in Pediatric Emergency Medicine (EM). Before starting medical school, I lifeguarded during my studies. Over six years, I had sent a handful of children to the Pediatric Emergency Department (ED) and always wondered what happened to them. I expected the shadowing experience to be chaotic and stressful.

The supervising physician shattered all my preconceived stereotypes about emergency medicine: she listened empathetically to patients and their parents, she took the time to teach her timid mob of medical learners and she managed to stay calm while juggling multiple cases of varying acuity. I left that shift – and all of my subsequent adult and peds EM shadowing shifts – in awe. I wanted to be part of this group of skilled physicians that made meaningful short connections with patients and was eager to tackle any case that came through the door.

I wanted to be part of this group of skilled physicians that made meaningful short connections with patients.

While in medical school I found I also loved the collaborative setting, the fast pace and the challenging contrast between cases in EM. My first two EM clerkship shifts entailed performing CPR, providing patient education in English, French and Spanish (and kicking myself for not learning at least three more languages!), ruling out a stroke in a non-verbal patient, and suturing a laceration after an assault. I was hooked. The opportunity to care for patients during their most difficult moments solidified my passion for Emergency Medicine. I love the “anyone, anything, anytime” mantra shared across ED’s that I visited on electives.

The opportunity to care for patients during their most difficult moments solidified my passion.

ANY

One
Thing
Time

EM is a broad and flexible field

Being fascinated by healthcare delivery in diverse settings and motivated by social justice I was interested particularly in Global Health and Wilderness Medicine in my pre-clinical years before dedicating myself to EM. Luckily, EM is a broad and flexible field and allows me to combine all of these interests.

I have been particularly interested in the online community that is working to advance EM and recruit medical students to the growing specialty on an international scale. Learning from and contributing to projects such as iEM is motivating and I am energized by like-minded medical learners around the world. My passion outside of school in the past two years has been working with the International Student Association of Emergency Medicine.

EM community is the best!

I may be biased, but I think the EM community is the best! There is an incredibly dynamic and well-established online presence that I have found very welcoming. Along with learning tips and tricks from FOAMed gurus, I had the opportunity to reflect on the EM mindset and social issues with the FemInEM community. Going to the FemInEM Idea Exchange 2018 (FIX18) conference last year in NYC as a student ambassador was an incredible experience and made me motivated to continue connecting with like-minded EM colleagues online.

Shana Zucker medical student, LGBTQIA+ advocate, at the FIX18 conference presenting her Queericulum

When I’m not in the hospital, I like to play outside. Participating in Wilderness Medicine allows me to do so even more and I like to think about how to deliver healthcare in non-hospital environments. I love that I can continue pursuing this passion through EM. The Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) has conferences, courses and research opportunities for medical students. I am working on my Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM) and hoping to gain more on the ground experience and contribute to research in this field as I move through my career!

When I’m not in the hospital, I like to play outside.

Hiking King’s Throne in Kluane National Park, YT, Canada, between EM shifts in Whitehorse, YT

The excitement and variety continue after shifts in EM. Between the online medical education community, on-shift teaching, research opportunities, the world of simulation and the interdisciplinary applications of EM, it is a specialty that academically has a lot of opportunities. Shift work is challenging, but offers flexibility to pursue my hobbies outside of work. There is a general culture of work-life integration and promotion of wellness shared among emergency physicians. At my home school program, Queen’s Department of Emergency Medicine, I saw this reflected in the resident and faculty mindsets and it contributed to my own prioritization of my wellness.

EM is a specialty that academically has a lot of opportunities.

The best advice I have received about choosing a specialty has been to follow my passions. The road to EM has been a fun adventure and has given me plenty of opportunities to do so. I am excited to start residency at the University of British Columbia. With teaching opportunities, unique pathology and a high volume of trauma, the residency at Vancouver General Hospital will be a busy but incredible ride.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

I look forward to pursuing my outdoor interests and enjoying urban amenities in Vancouver between shifts. With faculty and resident involvement in Wilderness Medicine and Global EM, I see many fun opportunities lying ahead!

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Cite this article as: Helene Morakis, Canada, "My Road to Emergency Medicine," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 6, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/03/06/my-road-to-emergency-medicine/, date accessed: January 15, 2021