Our organization, the American College of Osteopathic Internists (ACOI), is one that uses the word “family” a lot. We talk about our thousands of members as if we know them personally and, with many of them, we do.
Over the years, as we have gathered at our Annual Convention and Scientific Sessions, we’ve met each other’s spouses. We’ve seen children grow up. We’ve shared each other’s challenges and successes. We’ve watched many of our members progress and become esteemed fellows, who have demonstrated outstanding contributions to osteopathic internal medicine.
Held virtually last year, we still gathered as a family for the Fellows Ceremony, watching and supporting our colleagues as they celebrated this great achievement. Though joy was still abundant, it was the in-person handshakes and hugs that were missing.
Answering the call
Hence, within the context of this caring community, it is understandable that we don’t simply view the COVID-19 pandemic as impacting our members individually; but rather, as impacting all of us as an organization — as a family.
Early in the pandemic, when we began hearing about a novel coronavirus, many of our members were already conducting their own research, and sharing their learnings with colleagues and the ACOI membership to bring clarity to a scenario that even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not yet address — everything from office visit protocols to recommendations for testing and treatment.
Our members responded. Dr. Steven Short was one of them. He dropped everything and left his family and his practice in Manhattan, Kansas, and went to another Manhattan – in New York, which was in crisis mode, and where pulmonary specialists like Dr. Short were badly needed. He intended to stay a week to help at New York City’s largest COVID hospital and ended up staying nearly two months. He returned home to face the solitude of quarantining for several more weeks as to not endanger his family from possible exposure.
Dr. Walter Mickey, a board-certified ICU intensivist in St. Louis, is another ACOI member, who despite great sacrifice, answered the call, even when members of his own community rebelled against him and his fervent social media messages calling for social distancing and mask wearing. Dr. Mickey has had to live separately from his family, who is at high risk from COVID. His now 1-year-old daughter could barely sit up when he began his self-imposed isolation. He missed her milestones like learning to walk, instead watching from the safety of a FaceTime screen or through a glass door.
These are just two of our members who have shared their stories with us, though so many others have made similar sacrifices, and faced difficult circumstances throughout this past year. One common thread as they experienced their own challenges is our camaraderie as a family.
To support this family, the ACOI gathered over the past year, in Zoom-style, peer-to-peer support sessions, and listened to each other’s stories. We offered support and empathy for the losses we experienced. That’s what families are about and that is what defines our ACOI family.
At the ACOI, we call this support for each other Principle-Centered MedicineTM. We don’t just celebrate the glorious moments and outstanding achievements; we are also present for the rocky journeys.
“We are an entire profession of individuals that are facing the same unknown, the same uncertainty, the same fear, the same common enemy, in this virus, that is causing suffering on a scale that most of us have never seen before in our careers,” Dr. Mickey said. “We have to support each other.” Those are our ACOI Principles at work.