I never planned to become an advocate. There was no advocacy class in medical school, and during residency we had neither the time nor inclination to think past our patients. My efforts were laser focused and I didn’t connect my work at the bedside with the bigger picture.
Years later, advocacy has become central to my mission (and our residency’s). Experience and expertise confer power, and physicians are widely respected and believed, which means we can influence public health for the better.
Consider Covid. Most of us work on the front lines. We know how the virus spreads. We’ve witnessed suffering and death. We’ve seen inequity. We understand the importance of masking, ventilation, and social distancing. We’ve embraced vaccines. In a country saddled by misinformation and disinformation, we know the facts. We’re uniquely positioned to teach and persuade, and to help end the pandemic.
I’ve devoted much of the last week advocating for commonsense public health measures to fight the latest Covid surge.* After a painful weekend in the MICU, encountering one preventable tragedy after another, how could I not? The public prescription should be obvious: push for universal vaccines, require indoor masking, demand proof of vaccination at restaurants, and expand affordable testing. I may not be able to shape government policy, but I know my voice can shape public opinion and personal choices, which is just as important.
At this point in the pandemic, most of us are fatigued and frustrated. This is understandable: what can be more depleting or infuriating than engaging in this Sisyphean task, pushing uphill against the pandemic only to fall back repeatedly because of entrenched social failures? But I submit that we should redirect our frustration by addressing these failures directly, and this requires expanding our focus beyond our clinics, hospital floors, and ICUs.
Our success at fighting Covid at the bedside has been miraculous. But the pandemic won’t end until we take our experience and expertise to the larger stage. We need to use our voices. We need to advocate.
Let’s speak out together,
*As a faculty member in a position of authority, it’s important to emphasize that the opinions I express are personal and should not be construed to represent the official views of my employer (though I am grateful to work at an institution that does so much for the public good).
PS: It’s time for our annual New Year’s PD Letter. Tell me what you’re hoping for in 2022. Send me an email and let me know by New Year’s Eve!
PPS: Even advocates need a break. We’re driving up to Vermont today for a few days of R&R on South Hero Island. I’ll be back on 12/31 to begin a weekend in the MICU.