Dean’s Reflections: Finding the good in a very bad year

News & Events

Composote of masked physicians and researchers

 

The New Year is a time for many to "clean house," to assess the year ending and find the good that has happened, but, more importantly, to take from that good and prepare for the year ahead. It is a time to clean out the old and bring in the new.

Even for me, an extreme optimist, 2020 is a year for which it is hard to find the good. The pandemic has challenged us all in so many ways - personally, professionally, as a society, as a democracy. We have all, in our own ways, at our own time, experienced loneliness, fear, unexpected homeschooling, illness, death, post-COVID symptoms, mask annoyances, online teaching, Zoom fatigue, work-from-home space conflicts (if you were lucky), job loss (if you weren't so lucky), contradictory and sometimes just flat-out wrong medical information, the absence of the simple human contact of handshakes and hugs, conflicts with family and friends over issues that shouldn't be partisan but are, and the desperate wish to see loved ones (especially grandkids - that would be me!).

What good could possibly come from all of that?

I think there is much, but it is often lost in the chaos and collapse of the last 10 months, and we must do everything we can to hold onto it. We need to remember the new babies, the adoptions of pets and plants, the previously rare time for reflection that came with positive outcomes often missing in life's usual frenetic pace, a deeper understanding of relationships that could actually thrive under new constraints, the recognition that doing things the way they have "always been done" doesn't mean that's the way they always have to be done, random acts of kindness and generosity, and the grace and empathy shown by so many to so many in so many ways.

And that's not to mention the extraordinary advances that have occurred in science and medicine, as is always true during natural disasters, pandemics and world wars.

We saw the development - seemingly almost overnight - of accurate tests for both the virus and our antibody response; gained a new understanding of the immune system and how to treat it when it turns on us; developed national and global tracking, surveillance and epidemiologic systems, guided by remarkable public health experts; explored new approaches to health care delivery that have at least begun to address the health disparities revealed by the pandemic; and discovered new clinical approaches to caring for COVID patients, including how and when to use several novel drugs and treatments. We learned more about how and when to use proning (turning a patient from their back to their stomach), a long-known approach to improving pulmonary ventilation which has reduced the need to put COVID patients on ventilators.

We've shown our gratitude for the heroism of so many health care workers, who have given all of themselves and more to care for patients not only medically, but also emotionally. While chapters in their stories have often ended tragically - holding the hands of dying patients and assisting them in saying goodbye to loved ones via electronic devices - they have also inspired. Nationwide, we've seen a marked (nearly 20%) increase in medical school and nursing school applications, driven by tens of thousands of applicants who aspire to be part of the scientific developments and compassionate commitments that have occupied our headlines, and wish to contribute to the medical and social needs revealed by the pandemic.

And of course, we've witnessed the fastest development ever of what appears to be remarkably effective vaccines - but only because of 15 years of basic science research since SARS-1, often conducted in obscurity by the most dedicated scientists.

However, the arrival of vaccines is not the end of this cataclysm. As Winston Churchill said after the WWII victories in North Africa, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." We are challenged with how, to whom and when to deliver the vaccines, but we will figure it out. We are challenged to remind everyone that public health measures are still critical - perhaps even more so as population immunity improves, but individual immunity varies. We will be masking for the foreseeable future, and it is the only way the economy will fully re-open.

We have grieved, we have suffered, we have learned, and we look ahead to hope and possibilities. So as we "clean house" at the close of a challenging year and the start of a promising one, we would do well to follow the recommendations of Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method of living intentionally through decluttering:

"Focus on what you want to keep. Cherish what brings you joy. And let go of the rest with gratitude."

With much gratitude, I wish you a healthy, happy and joyful 2021.


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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Monday January 11, 2021 @ 4:00 PM