Saturday, April 11, 2020

COVID19 Pandemic Sparks the Heart of Humanity: Observations of Resilience & Adapatability

COVID19 pandemic has caused a global havoc and started a financial crisis. Despite the awful effects on humanity, people have rose to the challenge and evolved in creative and innovative ways.

Pre-COVID19, our economy was booming, and people were pursuing big plans with stable, strong incomes/returns. Then COVID19 came like a lightening strike and very quickly, everything came to a standstill. Busy streets were empty. Schools closed. Hospitals stopped outpatient services. "Stay at Home" orders went into full effect. Worst of all, many have or are actively dying, and many more are loosing our jobs or having work hours slashed. We are forced to stop and think about the bare essentials and cut out anything extraneous.

But, I am a hopeful optimist and I predict that COVID19 will identify effective new processes, and insights. Over the next decade, these new discoveries will make up and increase the returns many folds beyond the pre-COVID19 state.

Reed Omary's tweet "Constraints spark creativity" succinctly summarizes some of the observations I've made. COVID19 has forced us to step outside of our myopic views and consider alternatives. Technology tools have powered many of these alternatives.

Fig 1: Elementary school issued new rules for online learning.😂
For example, COVID19 transformed education.

Schools moved to e-learning. During COVID19, parents and children together went online to learn. Teachers adapted. Our elementary school teachers used Google Classroom to host assignments, Zoom videoconference for instructions, virtual office hours to answer parents' questions. We got daily briefings about the status of the school and COVID19. In addition, I gained new insights. Being in the background while my daughter's 2nd grade teacher gave instructions on Zoom shed new light. We love our elementary teachers, but watching/listening to her & the other kids during the online instructions made me acutely aware of how grateful I became to the school and the staff. The teachers treated the students with kindness and compassion, while being stern with inappropriate behaviors and imparting life lessons along the way for the students. In addition, new issues arose the school issued new rules for online learning including "Don't take your laptop to the bathroom" 😂 (Figure 1).

Learning became easier and more accessible:

  • National societies released or extended free access to incredible online content free-of-charge
  • Lecturers went online and hosted their lectures for a global audience. 
  • Virtual grand rounds became the new standard for departments. One colleague commented that he had more turnout for the virtual grand rounds than any of the prior in-person grand rounds.
  • Educators taught our trainees using Skype / Zoom to give lectures during rotations and read out studies in radiology.
  • Our own abdominal radiology case conference (@AbdominalCase) went to twice weekly from monthly to serve the need for growing desire by trainees for learning opportunities. Inadvertently, the common desire to learn from each other allowed educators to connect online during virtual case conference.

People connect online given Social Distancing constraints. Late adopters of videoconferencing came onboard and realized videoconferencing allows more people to connect and share.

  • Staff meetings went virtual and more people were able to join. A colleague, who is a chair of a department, shared with me that he viewed faculty meetings as an opportunity for people to connect. But, when faculty meetings went online, he had more turn out and interactions than the in-person meeting. He concluded that maybe faculty meetings do not necessarily to be a social function, and instead social events (e.g. holiday parties) can serve that purpose. More importantly, online meetings serves a forum to distribute information to a wider audience than previously allowable with in-person meetings. 
  • Virtual Happy Hours with our friends and new people popped up. Work-life integration was one click away. I had meet-ups with my friends online. Some hosted virtual dinner dates. The physician mom group (PMG) of Phoenix/Scottsdale hosted Saturday 5pm happy hours for us to connect with other PMGs in the area.
  • Fig 2: Generation alpha leverage technology to connect and collaborate.
  • Virtual Playdates allowed children to spend more time with each other. My daughter met her classmates everyday for several hours during Spring Break and regular schooldays to play online Animal Jam together (Fig 2). She works together on multi player game with her classmates during virtual playdate. Generation alpha are digital natives, who are growing up leveraging technology in a new way and COVID19 has highlighted their resilience and adaptability.

Fig 3: Our leaders reveal their superpowers during COVID19.
  Image Credit PicsArt
Leaders rose to the challenge.  I was on a virtual meet up with a coaching group recently and we went around sharing our perspective on COVID19 at our respective institutions. The responses were mostly of struggle or adaptation, but then, one of the individuals, who is a Vice Chair of Operations, commented and I summarize what he said: "it's fantastic. This is what we were trained for and it's great to be able to serve and do what we have been preparing to do all our lives".  Leaders are the superman/superwoman. When the time calls for them, they remove their daily professional clothes and reveal themselves to rest of us (Fig. 3). In the hospitals, our clinical volumes dramatically dropped, in the range of 70-80% depending on site. This has caused a major financial struggle for hospitals to maintain daily needs.  Our administrators have taken the brunt of the workload behind the scenes to carry us through. They meet daily, 7-days a week, strategize as new information flows in, organize, re-organize and plan accordingly real-time to adapt to the crisis and the impact it has had on the health system. Our leaders help us balance both the new clinical needs imposed by COVID19 and spread out the financial strain to the collective. I became ever more grateful for incredible leadership in my department to provide transparency, as well as hope, while emphasizing flexibility and adaptability for all of us. Given the uncertainty and without knowing the gravity of the financial crisis, leaders inspired us and provided realistic hope and optimism encourage us to stay calm and ride the storm.

Fig 4: Service to others during crisis helps us all.
Image Credit: pomocnadlonwschowa
People serve others in need during COVID19. Working parents (including me) were scrambling with childcare because our children were home full-time. Parents had to find new childcare coverage, which became harder because fewer childcare providers were willing to give care due to social distancing. Childcare centers closed. Babysitters stopped babysitting. During these times, the medical students organized themselves to provide childcare services to serve the healthcare workers. Several medical student volunteered to babysit my daughter.  But then, when Arizona issued Stay at Home order at the end of March, I followed up with a student who was scheduled to babysit to let her know I'll figure an alternative. In response, she wrote to me "[medical students] have found that caring for the children of healthcare workers is classified as essential, so I would be comfortable providing that if you need it". Peoples' values surfaced and behaviors became driven by intrinsic motivations (e.g. to serve others) rather than extrinsic motivation (e.g money) (Fig 4). Medical students have been at the heart of these intrinsically motivated behaviors and actions, which makes me so proud to be an educator contributing to developing our future generations of physicians.

In conclusion, COVID19 will leave its mark on humanity and I believe 10 years from now, we will look back and realize COVID19 will have been the strike that sparked the fire of human ingenuity, creativity, innovation and brought out the best in us.

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