The spring of 2020 has brought forth unprecedented changes in the way we both live and work. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives and for most of us, upended our daily workflow. As a clinically busy endocrine surgeon with an academic focus on global surgery, all aspects of my work have been affected. Fortunately for my patients, many of their surgical diseases are far from life-threatening, and can safely wait several weeks to months for a trip to the operating room. Although inconvenient and stressful, it has been the safest choice by far to postpone 99% of my surgical cases for approximately 2 months, and virtually every patient has agreed with this conservative plan.
As a global surgeon, my work has been impacted as well. I was out of the country in early March and returned to the US just as the cases of COVID-19 began to rapidly escalate. My planned work trip to Ethiopia, which should be occurring right now, was of course delayed. Colleagues in both Ethiopia and Kenya have been working exceptionally hard to manage the pandemic, and many of our planned collaborations have been placed on hold given the strict travel restrictions most countries now face.
No doubt many of you have experienced a similar upheaval in your work environments. As we begin to move forward, finding our “new normal” in the wake of such a massive public health disaster, I have often wondered what we will learn from this, and how we will modify our future state. The pandemic has given us nothing short of a hard reset, forcing systems to adapt rapidly to a changing world. Telemedicine has grown 5 years in a matter of 2 months, and we would all be remiss to assume that this practice will disappear. We are able to see patients remotely and minimize travel burdens for many. We are now beginning to resume non-emergent surgeries, and in doing so have doubled-down on safety and PPE requirements. Travel, both domestic and international, is likely forever changed, and the future of conferences, visiting trainees, and even examinations may look very different. Research programs are working remotely as well. Medical students and surgical residents have task-shifted drastically and graciously.
In the face of this forced reboot, I could not help but compare our lives to the technology that so often dominates it. As with electronics, almost everything works better if you turn it off for a little while and then turn it back on again. I hope that we are all able to critically review many of the former ways of life, and use this time to find a new, potentially better, way forward.