By Emily Schott
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) found itself asking the same questions that many organizations likely were: how can we best be of service to our members during this extremely trying and unprecedented time?
Most of our answers were practical: we provided physicians with as much up-to-date information as possible, advocated on their behalf with insurers and legislators, and created resources to help them navigate this “new normal.” At the request of Public Health Commissioner Steve Stack, MD, KMA also began collecting feedback and suggestions from members that would be communicated to the Administration.
However, we knew that as physicians, our members were on the frontlines of this pandemic, and would likely be seeing it (or unfortunately experiencing it) themselves in the coming days and weeks. Physician stress and burnout is a serious issue, and one that the KMA had addressed before through various initiatives and educational events. How could we help physicians with the mental and emotional toll COVID-19 would inevitably take?
While most input we collected for Dr. Stack contained clinical advice, several physicians included notes of thanks or personal anecdotes from their experience with the illness or its impact on their practice. We decided that providing members with an outlet to express whatever they felt was necessary, would not only allow members to connect with one another, but could in a small way assist with burnout and stress. Thus, the KMA’s “In Your Own Words” series was born.
KMA issued a call for submissions to the series in its daily Member News Alerts, but also reached out to several leaders and graduates of the Kentucky Physicians Leadership Institute (KPLI) to provide essays as well. While we always offered to simply interview the physician and pen the piece for them to be respectful of their time, almost every physician insisted on writing their essay themselves.
Many were heartfelt, describing their feelings around seeing COVID patients for the first time or their struggles keeping their practices afloat. Some described fears of bringing the virus back home to their families or questioned when things would ever get back to “normal.” Many simply described the day-to-day efforts of their hospital to keep COVID-19 patients isolated and evenings spent reading the latest research.
KMA received numerous submissions, which were published on its COVID-19 web page, kyma.org/covid19, as well as in Member News Alerts and on Twitter. The stories resonated with members and remain one of our “most clicked” features. As communications director, I’m proud that KMA was able to provide a creative outlet for physicians and a new way to share their perspectives during a period of stress and adversity.
“In Your Own Words”
Casey Lewis, MD, Pediatrics of Bullitt County
“How are you? I’m asked this daily. For the first time, my patients are asking this question of me. I’m seen as a fellow human with the same struggles as everyone else. Patients and friends are aware that physicians are being affected in a way that’s difficult to describe. And they are asking how I am doing. Most days, I say I’m doing fine. Some of those days, I’m lying.”
Toni Ganzel, MD, dean, University of Louisville School of Medicine
“Not only has our didactic learning and curriculum had to be retooled, but fun planned activities like Match Day and graduation had to be re-thought. We conducted a virtual Match Day as well as a virtual graduation ceremony, and while we were sorry not to be able to celebrate with them face to face, we were glad to at least celebrate with them virtually. Our students are being so strong and trying to stay positive, but we have to acknowledge that those graduating are missing out on important milestones, and that is sad. They won’t get to be together again before they disperse for residencies. I’m proud of the program directors and other school personnel and how they have been so supportive of these students. It’s a challenging time, but crises bring out true character and increased compassion and empathy for one another.”
Wayne Tuckson, MD, Colorectal Surgeon and Producer and Host of KET’s “Kentucky Health” and “Coronavirus: A Kentucky Update”
“I am not on the front lines putting myself and my skills to the test as so many of my colleagues are doing. Rather, I am employing what “skill” that I have to educate and assuage the fear and confusion that surrounds all things related to COVID-19.
It is my hope, that I carry on in the tradition of the KMA to keep Kentucky healthy using the tools at my disposal. At the minimum, I can always look back and say that I was a doctor, playing a broadcaster, on TV and that I gave it my best shot.”
Lee Dossett, MD, Baptist Health Medical Group, Lexington
“From a clinical standpoint we have seen a wide range of ages, symptoms, and severity. Those who present to the emergency room with mild symptoms can be swabbed and discharged home with instructions for self-quarantine. Those who are sick enough to be in the hospital but hemodynamically stable can be admitted to a telemetry floor for close monitoring. If they show respiratory compromise they are watched in the ICU with the plan of early intubation in a controlled setting when necessary.”
Husband and wife physicians Mark Brockman Jr., MD, Norton Children’s Medical Group-Iroquois and Molly Maggard Brockman, MD, Norton Medical Group-Shepherdsville
“Honestly, I still had influenza and RSV on my mind when we started talking about COVID-19 coming to Kentucky. As the days went on, I began to receive texts and calls from friends and family and countless patient questions about my opinion on the matter. It’s frustrating when you studied so hard in your career to obtain knowledge about various diseases and feel so clueless about such a societal dismantling virus. Our community and patients look to us to offer knowledge and guidance. I find myself saying, “I don’t know” when asked how long this will last or how the virus impacts child safety. Learning how to direct a discussion about COVID-19 to certain age groups has been challenging. We’ve both added time to our visits for extra conversation.”
-Emily Schott is the communications director at Kentucky Medical Association.