With COVID still rampant in our nation and individuals still not taking it seriously, it seems like I am preparing myself to become a physician educator now more than ever. A “physician educator” seems like a redundancy since “doctor” inherently means that you are a teacher, whether it be high school English or educating patients on their thyroid disease. I have been silent for the past few months, listening to individuals discuss how ‘The Democrats are blowing this out of proportion…”, “Is the virus even real?...”, and my personal favorite, “I will never wear a mask because it infringes on my personal liberties.”
I spend an hour every morning looking up the newest literature on COVID, how standards of care have been changing, and what the likelihood of getting a vaccine anytime soon really is. I have spent the past decade of my life educating myself to understand difficult concepts, like the theorized pathogenesis that the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes endothelial disruption via oxygen radicals that results in a hypercoagulable state (i.e. individuals with COVID get small and large clots thrown all over their body, possibly leading to the massive variability in patient presentation with this disease.) How can I educate people in a meaningful way that can help change their hearts? I say ‘hearts’ because as difficult as it may be to understand the disease process behind COVID, the larger lack of understanding comes from not having empathy.
I broke my silence when I when I saw a friend of mine in an indoor area and he wasn’t wearing a mask. It wasn’t the fact that he wasn’t wearing a mask that made me confront him, it was the fact that individuals around him were talking about how people being on ventilators due to COVID was all ‘made up.’ When I have friends having to intubate children and teenagers because they are so tired from barely being able to breathe that we need to do this so they can finally get some rest and assistance to stay alive, I can’t be quiet. I’m sorry. When I have friends calling me crying that their mother is on a ventilator because she has cancer and unfortunately contracted the virus due to being immunocompromised, I can’t be quiet. It doesn’t take much empathy to put yourself in another person’s shoes and understand that we wear masks to keep others safe, not myself. I knew what I signed up for when I started this journey into medicine, but I never thought I would have to teach basic principles of empathy to my future patients, family members, and even physician colleagues.
With the racial and COVID pandemics bringing our nation to its knees, I try to study for my second licensing exam and getting my application together for residency. It feels wrong to try to focus on myself and my family, even though I know I need to push myself forward so I can lift those up around me. I'm young and inexperienced, and my words may not carry weight or influence, but I can focus on what is right and wrong. When my voice will finally be heard by varying audiences, I will know my message and influence will be a benevolent one.
Omar Rachdi is in his his fourth year as a medical student at COMP-NW
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