March 30 is National Doctors' Day, an annual observance aimed at appreciating physicians who help save lives every day. The holiday first started in 1933 in Winder, Georgia, and has been observed every year on March 30, the first anniversary of a doctor using ether anesthesia.

We have recognized National Doctors' Day for several years with various emphases. This year, we want to honor all physicians for their heroism and resilience in the face of a viral pandemic that swept the globe in a matter of weeks, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives in its wake. 

Heralding Our Frontline Heroes

We don't use the term "heroism" lightly but rather, substantively. 

Here is just one example of many we could cite: 

In early March, at the outset of the virus spread, SCP developed the idea of a National Response Team (NRT) comprised of clinicians who would go anywhere they were needed to help support the influx of infected patients.

Within just a few days, 150 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants signed up. Their common refrain: "Where do you want us?"

So committed was this courageous group, it was not unusual to hear comments like: 

"We did not choose danger. It is a side effect of wanting to help. Besides, who else would do our job? Emergencies are what we are trained for. The front line is where we belong."

"It was amazing to work with dedicated physicians and nurses who were not only coworkers, they were friends and family for 6+ weeks. It was an experience of a lifetime and I would do it again."

"It was a remarkable experience being in the company of dedicated volunteers, nurses, doctors, NPs and PAs who were pulling together to form an army, to hold the COVID-19 surge at bay. As our roles morphed each day, no one seemed to lose sight of why we were all here: to do our part. Just tell us what you want, and we will make it happen!!" 

Every day, EM, HM, and ICU doctors ran into the COVID-19 "burning building” at the risk of their lives and their families.

Daily, they faced the constant strain and fatigue of not hours but days-long shifts, lack of sufficient PPE, and the disillusionment of enormous patient loss. 

(So destructive was the virus, just six weeks after President Trump declared a national emergency—March 13, 2020—the nation had lost half of our emergency medicine patients and nearly a third in hospital medicine.) 

At the same time, they quickly pivoted to deal with surges, non-surges, remote working, containment, and isolation. 

Even though that is what doctors are trained to do, the extraordinary circumstances the pandemic presented make us even more humbly grateful for the work of these dedicated medical professionals. They dove headlong into difficult situations and did an unbelievable job. And, they are still doing it—even with vaccines, the pandemic is far from over and worsening in some areas of the country.

Heroes, but Humans, Too

Despite the super-human resilience they displayed, doctors are, in fact, humans who need care and resources to continue doing their jobs, both during this pandemic and long after. At SCP, we are dedicated to ensuring physician satisfaction by providing physician support systems in all the ways they need and more.

That's why we encourage hospital leaders to take the following steps:

  • Require managers to regularly check in with their teams about their mental health and what they need to feel supported;
  • Provide mental health resources, including therapy, support groups, and quiet rooms, to your entire workforce;
  • Attempt to staff in such a way that your clinicians can take much-needed breaks;
  • Continuously convey your gratitude for the incredible effort that your workforce is putting forth;
  • Be cognizant of other stressful or difficult situations happening that would affect your workforce (e.g., Black Lives Matter movement, local developments, etc.) and be humble, compassionate, and encouraging in how you address and act on these situations.

We also reinforce the need for constant internal communication among leadership and staff:

"Your workforce needs to feel supported, informed, and empowered to do their jobs. Work to strike the balance between overcommunication (overwhelming) and radio silence (disconcerting). You don't have to have every single answer, and you also don't have to share every detail. Create a reliable cadence and structure for your communications for each major stakeholder.

"You may need a plan for sharing different portions of information with clinical vs. nonclinical staff while ensuring that everyone is receiving the same baseline messages. Ask for feedback—not just after, but during—to ensure that the way you're conveying important information is effective and clear."

Also, we consistently stress the need for a healthy work-life balance and created a Covid Survival Kit (PDF), a one-page resource to help providers protect themselves emotionally, avoid burnout, and thrive even amid the COVID-19 chaos.

Conclusion 

In his video commentary, Reflections on 2020 & Looking forward to 2021, Dr. Randy Pilgrim, enterprise chief medical officer, SCP Health, made the following remarks:

"It is more important than ever before to have a reason and purpose for doing what we do that is well beyond ourselves. ... [T]hink about your purpose, about your passion, and what really gets you up in the morning or at night to do what you do, especially when you don't have the resources internally … It can become the reason you can go on and why you can continue being a blessing to those you serve and to your families." 

Those are wise words indeed and none more compelling. To that end, we have created a one-page resource, Daily Habits to Preserve Your Practice, which contains a list of best practices to help providers build a sustainable practice well into the future and continue to be a blessing, as Dr. Pilgrim said. 

Speaking of blessing, we have said it before, but it bears repeating countless times over: Thank you for who you are and what you do. We wish you continued success in your practice in 2021 and beyond.