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Leadership Through Unprecedented Uncertainty

Being an early career professional in health and science means moving along a continuum of learning and leading. The moment you clear a hurdle, you’re a mentor for people following you. Remember “see one, do one, teach one”? There’s the learning-leading continuum in action. Every day of our working lives, we are becoming leaders as we continue to learn.

For the past month, give or take, the U.S. has been in the midst of a panicked response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have been scrambling to respond to rapidly changing conditions with scarce information and mixed messages from government and global bodies. Schools and healthcare organizations, where many of us work, have been particularly impacted. I have felt this stress acutely, as I’m sure many of you have. Will we be caring for affected patients? Will our PPE and medical supplies last? Will our research be put on hold? Will our students be able to graduate? Will we or our loved ones fall ill?

Even as our own anxiety ramps up, we may find ourselves needing our fledgling leadership skills more than ever. The public looks to us as experts. Patients look to us for guidance and comfort. Our students look to us for direction. Staff who work in our facilities look to us for instructions. How can we be there for these folks, even if we don’t feel all there ourselves? Here are some ideas:

  • Be present: find safe ways to be available, whether you’re on the ground, on video chat, sending emails, or anything else you dream up. Let people know they can talk to you and you’re there.
  • Be informed: Stay up to date, find sources of information you trust, and read with intention. This practice can help you be a source of authority and comfort when so much around us is chaotic.
  • Be honest: it’s OK to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know— especially if the next part is “but I promise to do my best.”
  • Be kind: Every person you interact with is facing stress now. Treat them kindly. Ask how they are, and listen to the answer. Allow a little grace where you might otherwise stick to strictly business.
  • Be transparent: If you are working on a plan, say so. If things might change, say so. If you are waiting on a person or a step that can’t be rushed, say so.
  • Be human: you don’t have to be a robot. People can see that you, too, are anxious or uncertain, and that doesn’t undermine your ability to lead. People can see that you have kids, or pets, or a partner, or dirty dishes. Sharing your self can be one of the most powerful ways to connect.

Ultimately, everyone is seeking stability, comfort, and connection. Much of this is beyond our control, but even a little leadership presence goes a long way.

Stay safe, friends, and may you come through these hard times with grace and wisdom.

 

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”

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COVID-19 Pandemic: 5 lessons about the way we practice medicine

I know that this blog was supposed to be Part 3 of the “building an academic portfolio during medical training” series, however, it’s very difficult these days to talk about anything other than COVID-19. This pandemic that has taken the whole world by storm, and reminded us all about how fragile our whole world is! Amidst all the angst and frustration, it is important to focus on positively learning from such an unprecedented experience in our lifetime. The lessons are innumerable, yet I wanted to share with you 5 points that, in my humble opinion, were highlighted by these extraordinary circumstances:

  1. Telehealth is no longer a luxury. Despite having the technology available for years, the health industry has been lagging behind when it comes to telehealth. It took a pandemic and thousands of lives for us to realize that most of the outpatient services we provide (and arguably some of the inpatient ones even) can safely be delivered virtually. The degree of disruption to one’s life and the time wasted outside the actual doctor’s visit, between taking time off from work, physically making it to the medical facility, parking, checking-in, and so forth, can easily be omitted by a technology that is readily available but we have been reluctant to use (or don’t have insurance approval to do so). There will always be a place for in-person visits, but at least we would have more time for patients that actually need to be seen in-person.
  2. Many hospitalizations and tests are unnecessary. As the pandemic worsens, physicians started to be judicious with ordering tests that require moving patients around the hospital. They also started thinking twice about who needs to be in the hospital, to begin with. We are now realizing how many tests and hospitalizations can safely be avoided, and I am hoping that we will carry these revelations with us as we move past the current circumstances.
  3. Incorporating research into clinical practice needs to be seamless. Despite major advances, the way we conduct research has not yet been optimally incorporated into our daily clinical activities. We are in desperate need to develop the necessary infrastructure that instantaneously translates patient-care input into organized data that can be used to improve the way we manage our patients. Ideally quickly enough to potentially help some of the patients who generated these data. This necessary infrastructure also extends to research regulations, which need to strike the appropriate balance between scrutiny and practicality.
  4. In a world of “evidence-based medicine”, clinical acumen remains paramount. The sudden exposure to this COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all that often times, as physicians, we are required to operate in evidence-free zones. As much as we need to always look for evidence behind everything we do in medicine, it is essential not to forget that taking care of patients is both a science and an art. And this is why physicians can never be replaced by computers.
  5. Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure. With the great technological and pharmaceutical advances, we tend to develop great confidence in our ability to improve life expectancy. This is particularly true in procedural fields such as Cardiology. Then comes a sobering pandemic, to remind us that when it comes to public health, prevention always wins! Fortunately, we rarely need drastic measures such as quarantines and social distancing. But addressing smoking, obesity and blood pressure control will always have much more impact on our community than stents and ablations.

We will continue to learn from this world tragedy – lessons in medicine, philosophy and life in general. But, above all, this is a reminder of how noble and unique our healthcare profession is. Stay safe everyone!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”