Albert Einstein College of Medicine, MS3
April 6, 2020
One year ago, my classmates and I were wrapping up our last preclinical courses before retreating to study intensely for our first national board exam. In that important time of our lives, all we could see was our computer screens, reviews books, and maybe a friend or family member for an hour here and there. We were completely consumed in the present, with very limited ability to tend to non-essential tasks that did not help contribute to our goal of performing well on the exam. There was no time to fully understand what our lives would look like after we sat for our exam and embarked on a new path as a third-year clerk. However, we did not stress about the unknowns of third year because there was a more essential task at hand, and we knew there was a plan for us moving forward. Others had been there before, and we trusted that we would follow their lead to continue on our journey to becoming physicians despite not knowing all of the nuances of the path that lay before us.
After sitting for the exam, we all congregated back on campus and entered a new period of individual growth that would change our person and begin to set the foundation for the way we practice medicine and hold ourselves as professionals. Day after day, night after night we have worked tirelessly to learn how to deliver care on the front line, and home in on a specialty that we love so that we can apply for a residency position. As the year continued on, the rate at which time passed appeared to accelerate. Here we are, one and a half months away from completing the most transformative year of our undergraduate medical education. Yet, we are all isolated and communicating over the internet. Very few people in the world were crazy enough to even claim that this type of event would happen in our lifetime, yet alone predict that it would happen right now.
Sitting on the other side of the onset of this unprecedented event, one can say it was obvious that this would one day happen. Given the velocity with which humans, goods, and services traverse the globe in the modern economy, we were due for such an event. While that may be true, one can apply the same argument to predict a plethora of events. Most scenarios will eventually play out, one day.
As I write this, I have a few thoughts that I would like to capture. First, let's all be thankful for our family, friends, and the experiences that life has granted us with. Times like these make us all revert to the survival mode, unable to see a way forward due to the seemingly insurmountable uncertainty of the present. Take a minute to breathe. Second, we should take a step back and realize that this type of event has happened before and will most likely happen again. However, the rate at which people can move across borders in the twenty-first century far exceeds that of any other period in recorded history, which presents a formidable public health challenge as we move forward. It is crucial that we first get through this wave of disease, properly care for those who are infected, and mourn those that we lose. As we move forward and restore some normalcy back into our lives, governing bodies must come together to develop protocols that assume we will face an entity leading to high morbidity and mortality rates that is completely unbeknownst to man, unlike anything we have seen spread to humans in the modern era. This may be a flavor of conventional pathogen but could also be another marvel of biology that we have not yet discovered. Just as our ancestors were struck by the plague before germ theory was discovered, we could be distanced from each other by an entity that we have not yet conceived, measured, or identified. Understanding how we will deal with such a problem at a global level is essential for borders to open unrestrained, as they were just four months back.
Ultimately, it is key for us, future physicians of the United States of America, to process the present and think about the saying “the only constant is change.” As much as we grapple with the uncertainty of the remainder of our clerkships and final year of undergraduate medical education, we must acknowledge that those who came before us also dealt with change and uncertainty to give us the scaffolding that we stand on today. Consider this the first of many changes our generation of physicians will face and remember we can all grow immensely, helping to shape a better future where our successors can thrive and reach new heights. For one day, we will all come together again to face another unprecedented change.