As we enter the new year, our world, our country, and our clinical environments are in continuous turmoil putting to the test even the most resilient of us. There is a sense of unending chaos and disruption in our lives with few places to provide stability and direction. There is one dimension of our world that we, as the medical community, can view with pride - our response to the global pandemic. Despite the lack of national leadership and facing an unpredictable viral threat, the members of our profession rose to meet the challenge with compassion, respect, and knowledge and with little regard to their personal safety, representing true altruism and self-effacement of their own interests. These are the hallmarks of both virtuous physicians and a profession dedicated to serve those in need. This example set by the profession is now needed in American society, plagued by a loss of a common vision and a shared sense of values. We find ourselves as a nation not acting with compassion and respect, and challenging traditional sources of knowledge and morality while supporting only those who support our own views, disregarding all others.
If the pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is that the SARS CoV-2 virus does not recognize political views or whether an individual supports a particular ideology or position. It progresses unswervingly, causing illness, debility, and death. Only when working together practicing our core values derived from medicine’s moral and ethical framework, using rigorous scientific knowledge, have we started the process that will bring an end to this pandemic.
We are at a similar point in American society except that we as Americans are the deadly virus infecting the body of our democracy, threatening its stability, functioning, and its very existence. We, as the medical community, have much to share with our country about how to successfully overcome this broader societal threat. Only by all of society recognizing the value of every life and the need for each person to be treated with respect, compassion and understanding can we hope to end this larger societal plague. Just as the medical community speaks truth to the population regarding the pandemic, we as Americans must speak truth to each other. The public sees and values the role of the medical profession in successfully caring for the victims of COVID-19, devising new treatments, and developing vaccines in record time. It is now our job to help them understand that this success was only achieved through a common vision, honesty in assessment of the facts at hand, and shared purpose in solving the challenges facing us. It is the profession’s job to insist that the greater society embrace these same approaches to heal the long-standing injustices, divisions and even hatred that has infected America for far too long. This is especially true in our domain in health care, but our example provides a framework and common ground for healing societal ills beyond our purview.
Only by learning the lessons we have learned fighting this virus, and employing an approach based on a solid ethical and moral framework, can we hope to cure the virus of intolerance, hatred, and incivility and end the disease that threatens to destroy our nation. It can be done, and given our experience, we can help lead the way.
As this new year begins, I salute the members of the profession of medicine and all our colleagues in the healing effort, for demonstrating a standard that prioritizes altruism and care for every person, even in the face of incredible challenge and difficulty. Let us use our skills, and model our values to end both the pandemic of 2019, and the epidemic of intolerance and incivility.
Thomas J. Nasca, MD, MACP
President and Chief Executive Officer