I was bewildered initially as I looked around the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room from my hospital bed and noticed my crying wife and best friend smiling as they looked at me from the couch in my room. As I began to recover my senses after four days of heavy sedation, my bewilderment transformed into a sense of relief that I must have survived a nearly fatal disease course. As I recall, my wife ran quickly to sit on my bed and held me closely while crying on my shoulder. At that moment, I was overwhelmed by an additional feeling of gratitude.
Starting in October 2019, I was hospitalized for severe sepsis secondary to hepatic abscesses. Surviving that, I endured a two-year course of illness that would lead to several more hospitalizations due to disease complications and multiple surgeries. During that period, I was frequently sidelined from work for months at a time. In those times, I simultaneously experienced both the fear for my colleagues who dedicated themselves to meeting the needs of a community overwhelmed by the first COVID wave and the fear of navigating life as a patient whose medical care was significantly impacted by the need to preserve hospital capacity. Those experiences have informed my view of our profession in ways likely unknown to a physician who has never been on the other side of the stethoscope. As I reflect on this time for my first SGIM Forum column, this is a prime opportunity to simply introduce myself, express my gratitude for the support of SGIM membership, and share my excitement about the opportunities we now have as Internists to significantly improve the world in which live.
For those who do not know me, I have been a member of this society since starting my fellowship in 1999. Over the past 23 years, SGIM has meant far more to me than the annual meetings. SGIM has been an instrumental part of my professional life. Early in my career, submitting abstracts for the Practice Innovations and Scientific Research categories helped me hone my ability to write and communicate the significance of my work to a broader audience. I received direct feedback and advice about my work from intellectual giants in general internal medicine; advice that improved my abilities as a hospitalist, researcher, educator, community member, and administrator. Furthermore, our society offered opportunities to develop my leadership skills by assuming roles in interest groups, committees, and SGIM council. Being a part of this community afforded me the opportunity to connect with mentors longitudinally throughout my career and the opportunity to mentor brilliant physicians—many of whom are from groups under-represented in academic medicine—and to derive joy from sharing in their successes. I remain humbled by the support provided by this community and appreciative of the kind words and support offered by so many of our members to my family during my illness. Allow me the opportunity now to thank you, my fellow SGIM members, for giving me the privilege to serve as SGIM president.
I have experienced first-hand the impact that poor care coordination, medication and diagnostic errors, social isolation, and high healthcare costs have on the well-being of patients and their loved ones. As difficult as that has been, I have also developed optimistic views of what we can accomplish in medicine and the role academic internists can play in creating a better society. My optimism stems from an appreciation of the extraordinary efforts physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals take to deliver high quality care despite systems designed to result in the many poor health outcomes and in the inequality in life expectancy that continues to persist. I have witnessed colleagues fully commit themselves to rapidly learn methods to improve the detection, evaluation, and treatment of disease, despite usual processes that work against efficiency. I have been amazed at the scholarly approach SGIM members have taken to gain new knowledge and disseminate findings aimed at addressing inequality and improving the health of the populations we serve. Despite the many challenges of the past two years, I have also witnessed the tireless efforts of our SGIM staff members to deliver educational and research content to SGIM members in continued support of our collective efforts to derive benefit from our membership in support of the patients we serve despite the unprecedented circumstances thrust upon us. I am honored to be able to continue my work as part of this community.
Over the coming year, we will need clinical leaders, educators, and researchers to help us forge a better future. We enter a new era where innovative strategies may be required to educate a new generation of internists who may: 1) have more limited exposure to the broader array of disease due to disruptions during their clinical training, 2) have an increasing scope of virtual medicine in their practice, and 3) seek a greater understanding of how to address the social vulnerabilities of the patients they serve. Over the coming years, it will be vitally important to better articulate the leadership role the internist plays in the delivery of team-based care and coordinate virtual care models in an equitable way.1-3 Perhaps most important, we will continue to support the training of general internists and provide them with the skill sets to become leaders in policy, administration, education, and research. Based on my tenure as an SGIM member, I truly believe the members of our society have all it takes to promote improvements in how we train, advance knowledge among our peers, inform public policy, and improve the health of our patients in a rapidly changing world.
We have the community of professionals we need to create a better tomorrow and I look forward to forging our future together!
- DeChant PF, et al. Effect of organization-directed workplace interventions on physician burnout: A systematic review. Mayo Clin Proc Innovations: Quality & Outcomes. 2019;3(4):384-408.
- Kerr D, Sabharwal A. Principles for virtual healthcare to deliver real equity in diabetes. Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2021;9(8):480-482.
- Fujioka JK, et al. Promoting health equity in virtual care: Protocol for a scoping review of reviews. JMIR Research Protocols. 2020;9(12):e22847.
Clinical Practice, Health Policy & Advocacy, Leadership, Administration, & Career Planning, Medical Education, SGIM, Wellness
“Despite the many challenges of the past two years, I have witnessed the tireless efforts of our SGIM staff members to deliver educational and research content to SGIM members in continued support of our collective efforts to derive benefit from our membership in support of the patients we serve despite the circumstances thrust upon us. I am honored to be able to continue my work as part of this community. I believe the members of our society have all it takes to promote improvements in how we train, advance knowledge among our peers, inform public policy, and improve the health of our patients in a rapidly changing world.”
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