Stripping Our Layers To Save Humanity — Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy

An urgent call to professionals from outside the health sector for help.

For more than a decade, I have been priding myself as a physician aspiring to touch millions of lives by improving life after cancer for patients living in low and middle-income countries, through research and advocacy.

Yes, that was my tagline in every single professional biography that I have crafted for myself over the past ten years or so

To be honest, never did I in my wildest dream ever imagined that I will even remotely be involved in managing the outbreak of an infectious disease, let alone a pandemic. In hindsight, how naïve can that be?

And now, Covid-19 is teaching me humility. Ironically, this self-realisation only struck me after I caught myself subconsciously editing my biographies and CVs over the past few months, to more and more basic descriptions of my job title, dropping off fancier terms like ‘cancer epidemiologist’, ‘clinical epidemiologist’, that even some of my colleagues in medicine could not fully comprehend.

And now, when my (public health) department opened a Covid-19 operations room and started putting us, the academic physicians on on-call rosters to perform a range of surveillance activities for our hospital, I am beginning to strip even more layers off myself; From a ‘super-specialised’ epidemiologist to a ‘plain’ epidemiologist, to a public health physician, and then finally, to a ‘plain’ doctor.

Among the many lessons that the Covid-19 pandemic has been teaching me is that never forget who you are and never forget your basic skills no matter how high you get.

One day, your nation might need you for that very basic skills, and you just have to leave everything, shed your layers and go back to basics.

We indeed have fine examples of doctors/ medical personnel from around the world who have done this, who have volunteered to cross disciplines and geographical boundaries to share their skills in this time of need, even in instances when they did not have to.

The closest analogy that I can think of is the voluntary recruitment of civilians to fight in wars to defend their nations in the olden days.

Only now, we have a different kind of battle, a tough war against a deadly virus and it is not only the health professionals who need to shed their layers to fight it.

The world at large also needs other professionals to come forward to fight this war including lawyers, economists, human resource experts, anthropologists, engineers, and the list goes on.

Like me, you may need to strip your layers of fancy titles to offer your services in finding solutions for the nation during this pandemic, in your own field, based on your local context.

This pandemic is not over, and it will end up leaving a scar on many lives even in its aftermath. Our overarching aim here should be to mitigate the health and non-health impact of Covid-19 on the community, by tackling pressing issues including employment challenges, food insecurity (e.g. access, hoarding), childcare shortages, protection of the elderly, loan defaults, collapse of small businesses, etc.

Have a think, whoever you are, wherever you are, and not forgetting, how many layers need stripping?

Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy is a public health medicine specialist and an associate professor of epidemiology.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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