• Looking for Light in an Unbelievable Time

    August 31, 2021, 8:41 a.m. — Let me be blunt: I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re tired. And the pandemic is far from over.

    physician experiencing stress

    When I sat down to write this post, one of the phrases I started with but didn’t necessarily plan to keep was “family physicians are stressed beyond belief.” I thought those last two words, “beyond belief,” might sound exaggerated or dramatic.

    Now I think that’s exactly where we are: beyond belief.

    I can’t believe this country has logged 38.4 million cases of COVID-19. I can’t believe this virus has killed more than 630,000 Americans. I can’t believe that, a season past when there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel for our strained practices and our colleagues and our families and our patients, the delta variant and the politicization of prevention and vaccination have for now eclipsed our hopes.

    I can’t believe that, in the very same week the FDA announced its full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for all patients 16 and older, the United States just repeated a cruel milestone: We’re back up to 100,000 hospitalizations for the first time since the start of 2021.

    Honestly, it’s not just stressful. It’s exhausting.

    It’s exhausting to see how many Americans don’t believe the evidence-based science of the COVID-19 vaccines, even when they’re hearing it patiently but urgently explained by their family physicians. It’s exhausting to see how many people have steered themselves toward misinformation or demagoguery about masks, endangering themselves and their families and imperiling their communities. And it’s incomprehensible — it’s devastating — to know how many people who could have prevented their infections or lessened the impact of the illness have gone from beyond believing us to beyond rescue.

    All of these elements are taxing the capacity of the health care system — including us — beyond its limits. Again.

    “I am alarmed by the … deliberate use of social media platforms to spread misinformation. The question about the effectiveness of masks has been asked and answered since the 1500s,” Lee Norman, M.D., a family physician and the secretary of Kansas’ Department of Health and Environment, told the Academy.

    He said that a year ago, yet the introduction since then of lifesaving vaccines has only sharpened political divisions and left physicians on the front lines of that fight, too.

    Recently, AMA President Gerald Harmon, M.D., a family physician, said in a good online forum on vaccine misinformation, “I know the question and the resistance from some folks has been they’re uncertain about the long-term effects of the vaccine. I think we need to remember that the long-term effects of this COVID virus are known. They’re starting to become known. We have over a year of experience, now 18 months of experience, and we know that there is a long-hauler syndrome. … That’s such an important risk that you can mitigate or prevent by becoming vaccinated.”

    That’s yet another reason why we keep up our counsel as we keep up the rest of our practices, too, even when it all feels beyond belief. We keep pushing back against misinformation, keep having the same conversations over and over, keep battling for our patients overtime hour upon overtime hour against the pandemic and its countless downstream effects on public health.

    It feels as though we, too, will have to endure a kind of long-haul fallout from the pandemic. Because there can be no rest.

    I feel it, so I know that you must feel it, too.

    I’m writing this to let you know that your Academy understands the toll this has taken — and continues to take — on you, and we’re here to support you. In addition to providing ongoing COVID-19 resources to care for your patients and combat misinformation, and calling on policymakers and legislators to provide relief of the strains and hardships you’ve faced, we have resources to protect your well-being. If you know of a colleague who could also use these resources, please share them.

    And don’t be afraid to seek out professional help. If you are an employed physician, your employee assistance program is a resource to help connect you with the right people.

    Let me remind you: With our help, the vaccination rate is rising, and we’re learning that the vaccines may already have prevented as many as 140,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths. There is still light ahead, and we are part of it.

    Against the profound professional, physical, mental and emotional burdens of COVID-19, you and I can lean on the Academy. And through the AAFP, we can believe in one another and look out for one another. Together we will prevail.

    While your Academy is supporting you as we all fight this fight, if there is something else we can do to help, please let us know by emailing aafp@aafp.org.

    Ada Stewart, M.D., is president of the AAFP.



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    The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.