Artist: Dave Bowman, Design Turnpike
Overcoming In The Age Of Covid
“God give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” Reinhold Niebuhr, 1944
For me, the arrival of 2021 was a time for reflective gratitude, celebration of accomplishments, mourning of losses, planning for the future, and hopeful expectation of better things to come. COVID19’s abrupt arrival and virulent intercontinental spread collectively made the human race lose its sense of balance and calm.
My own soul strives for calm and balance, but unfortunately I have a life-long unenviable habit of serendipitously finding myself in a variety of “Forrest Gump” types of medical and life situations, and this past year was no exception. I had barely finished reading a journal article about the outbreak in Wuhan when a febrile student who had just returned from China showed up on my clinic’s doorstep. Barely two months later, I was dealing with COVID in my own home, as my daughter earned the dubious honor of being one of the first confirmed cases in the state of Pennsylvania.
The pandemic has forced me and many others to relinquish control over our lives, to learn to adapt and pivot as changes arise, and to not depend on the periscope’s limited viewfinder. Serenity has been elusive and fleeting.
When I launched Physician Outlook in January 2020 I had a simple mission: to start a magazine that would help to restore the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship. It would give physicians a voice and focus on the criticality of autonomy. What sets PO apart from other publications is that we are primarily a physician-facing (not a generic “provider”-facing) publication that understands and addresses physicians’ struggles, as well as what gives us tremendous joy. Another differentiating factor is that we are national and non-conflicted. Our primary support comes from subscribers and collaboration with other grass-roots groups, and we have grown organically via word-of-mouth. Our readers and writers don’t always agree on every issue, but we are respectful and kind to one another and value inclusion in every sense of the word. We are building a community of just and ethical professionals that span the age-range, and we do so in a way that does not exclude nor discriminate. We present ALL points of view, and we tackle tough issues head-on. We entertain, we brag, we laugh and we share the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In 2021, our mission hasn’t changed – but over the course of our first year we learned that only hindsight is 2020, and as humans, we live, we (hopefully) learn, we course correct. We find the courage to change what we can. Physician Outlook has a new and simplified set of categories this year: The Doctor’s Bag, The Humans in Medicine, and Pleasures and Pastimes. Fairly self-explanatory but visit the website for additional context. We are blessed to have a growing number of contributing authors and artists, and this year we welcome additional perspectives from medical students, https://www.physicianoutlook.com/articles/maggies-musings, residents and fellows. These young people are the face and the future of medicine, and we need them to learn from our mistakes and to triumph from our victories. This future generation is teaching us how to use the power of social media to disseminate information to circles outside of our own communities, and they are also being taught to prioritize self-care and self-awareness early in their careers. For them we are very grateful.
We are most proud of our beautiful print Physician Outlook magazine (which can be previewed in “digital” flip form on our website www.PhysicianOutlook.com). It is our “pièce de résistance.” The human brain thrives on the positive sensory feedback that holding a paper magazine or a real book in our hands transmits through our synapses. The art in the magazine is breathtakingly beautiful and showcases the many dimensions of talent our brothers and sisters in medicine possess. Almost all of the artwork and photographs in the magazine are the original work of physicians, many of whom have become extra productive during the past pandemic year.
“Why a print magazine?” I have been asked. “The print magazine industry is dead.” Print is NOT dead, in fact—it is predicted to be stronger than ever. According to Forbes magazine, over sixty print magazines launched during the pandemic. I am confident that the Physician Outlook magazine is breathing life back into medicine. It is a conversation piece, a touchpoint that will promote healing and help bring cures to our failing healthcare system and to its stewards. I am part of the largest demographic of practicing physicians (baby-boomers born between 1945 and 1964), and we drive much of the consumer spending in our country. Interestingly enough, a significant subset of baby-boomer physicians do not have a social media footprint and are thus not being directly marketed to. Those who consciously avoid Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms are likely not aware that there are physicians who are busy fighting the extortion that Maintenance of Certification truly is, stopping scope of practice creep, offering a safe way to introduce readers to a safe place for social media newbies to connect, building physician-owned platforms to protect our identities and credentials, and building alternatives to “Yelp” (so that angry or disappointed patients can’t maliciously malign their well-meaning doctors with bad consumer reviews).
I can find fewer than 40% of my medical school and residency colleagues online, and when I am able to connect in person or via traditional mail, and have asked “why?” there is usually a sentiment of general disdain for the intrusion that the internet plays on their lives. They get enough “screen-time” at work with Electronic Health Records. Interestingly, though, many of these “disconnected” doctors also lament the changes in medicine and report unhappiness; and too many are planning their “Dr-EXIT” or exodus from medicine, unaware that they are not alone in their quest for change. Once subscribed, most physicians report that they enjoy reading Physician Outlook cover to cover and that they find it to reduce their stress and helps them to re-find their joy in medicine. It is not uncommon for new readers to recommend our publication to their physician friends and colleagues.
This is exactly how I envisioned the magazine’s first year, and COVID was an unexpected silver lining that put “all things medical” into the limelight. Re-discovering my purpose through the magazine and finding common ground with others has been a saving grace for me, as has learning about opposing points of view that I would not normally hear if I chose to remain within my own head or within a group of people who all think the same way as I do. We need to get out of our own echo-chambers every once in a while to learn, grow and acquire wisdom.
The power of the words in the Serenity Prayer have guided my actions and mindset unconsciously since I was a young child, but I had never thought to research who had first written those words. I discovered that the prayer’s author, Reinhold Neibur, changed his beliefs over his lifetime to adapt to the times and their challenges, but he never morally swayed from the words he first uttered in the early 19th century. He learned to accept the things he could not change, but he went to great lengths to effect change where he could, and he clearly had the wisdom to know the difference.
At Physician Outlook we will continue to report what is happening in medicine, and do everything in our power to uplift and protect physicians, as medicine is OUR house. It is WE who took an oath to “DO NO HARM,” and it is our duty and obligation to protect our noble profession so that we can continue to best serve our patients.
There may be things that we cannot control or change, but together we shall overcome, so long as we allow wisdom and good intentions to prevail.
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