Stephanie Lim-Reinders is a PGY-1 pediatrics resident at CHEO in Ottawa, and recent graduate of the University of Toronto.
Medical school was not supposed to end like that. Having just completed our CARMs tour, the feeling that we were really going to become doctors was still hanging in the air when we got the news that the COVID-19 pandemic was now at our doorstep. For our safety we were asked to leave our clinical placements and stay home.
The high of becoming doctors was marred by the sinking feeling that it was going to happen in the face of a global pandemic. None of us started medical school anticipating that becoming physicians could mean putting our families in danger, or entering into a workplace that months prior told us to leave for our own safety.
In my last moments as a medical student my mind wandered back to a particular night I was on call. I could tell you every detail of what happened that night even though it was years ago. It was the first time I saw a pediatric resuscitation and also my first pediatric patient death. It felt like the world ought to have stopped turning for even a second to give this family a moment longer together. I was heartbroken at their pain and grief. Later, I was also afraid to go back into a building where I’d seen that even children die. Standing in that room, I thought that perhaps I did not want to become a doctor after all. Yet, while the moment was truly devastating, it also demonstrated to me the depth of community in medicine. The nurses, paramedics and physicians were together in their fear, grief and sadness. No healthcare provider was alone in this loss. Little did I know that I would later see this community come out in force to lift each other up again, this time for a global pandemic. I remember the words my staff shared me that day. “While it does not feel like it now”, she told me, “we must keep coming back and keep trying, because there are so many lives yet to save.” What renewed my hope in becoming a physician was that the hardest days to come would be matched by the presence of a community with an incredible depth of empathy and understanding for each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken our healthcare system and gripped many healthcare providers with fear and anxiety. It has changed our whole world, and the world of medicine. And we must again choose medicine in the face of questioning what it means to be a doctor.
My dad, an ICU physician, was recently called on by our region when it became clear that the number of cases here may quickly exceed the capacity of our providers to treat them. I watched as each day he prepared the region for the fight of its’ life against COVID-19. With steadfast determination, he went to work every day for his patients and his team. I asked him if he felt afraid. He told me simply that he was just helping however he was capable.
And now our recently-graduated class – who, a few months ago, rallied to source PPE to fill gaps – are doctors. For so many reasons becoming a doctor is terrifying. COVID-19 has added a palpable, heavy layer of fear and grief to that feeling. But the depth of community in medicine can carry us on the days the waters of uncertainty seem too deep to cross. Standing in that emergency department a few years ago, I saw a small glimpse of not only what it really means to be a doctor, but also to be a part of this medical community. Today, I see the whole world standing with us too.