By: Zaina A. Niles

Doctors’ Day, March 30th, has been an annual observance dedicated to honoring and appreciating physicians unofficially since 1933 and officially since 1958. This Doctors’ Day, perhaps more than any time in recent history, physicians should be thanked and celebrated. Members of the Military Spouse JD Network are not strangers to sacrifice, as we have seen our spouses sacrifice time and time again, in various capacities, for the safety and civility of our country. Now, as we pass the one-year anniversary of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, MSJDN wants to formally recognize the sacrifices made by physicians and other healthcare professionals in the name of the greater good.

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, there have been over 30 million COVID-19 cases in America, and more contagious variants of the virus are now present in every state. On February 22, 2021, President Biden issued a Proclamation directing that the United States flag be flown at half-staff in memoriam of the more than 500,000 Americans who had already been lost to COVID-19 at that time. As of the start of April, U.S. deaths have surpassed 549,000.

Of the total U.S. deaths, the CDC estimates that over 1,500 have been among healthcare personnel, who are at a greater risk of workplace exposure than many other segments of the population. However, definitions and data collection requirements/mechanisms vary between facilities and across state lines, and the impact on healthcare personnel is most likely under-reported (as is often the case during public health crises). Thus, some estimates of the death toll within the healthcare field are much higher. For example, a database maintained by Kaiser Health News, in partnership with The Guardian, reports there have been over 3,600 healthcare worker deaths since the pandemic began and suggests that 17% of those deaths, approximately 613, have been physicians.

The unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic have affected us all, but doctors are—quite literally—on the frontlines of the still-ongoing battle against COVID-19. Attendings, residents, and students alike have accepted very atypical dangers associated with their typical responsibilities, taken on extra shifts to make up for increased patient volumes and/or cover for ill colleagues, challenged misinformation about virus transmission and vaccines, and religiously adhered to their oaths despite shortages in personal protective equipment and the unparalleled physical and emotional tolls associated with all of the above. Stress, fatigue, and burnout are understandably “compounded by the loss of co-workers to COVID-19 and the fear that many healthcare workers carry for themselves and their families.”

The first clause of the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 8.3 states as follows:

Whether at the national, regional, or local level, responses to disasters require extensive involvement from physicians individually and collectively. Because of their commitment to care for the sick and injured, individual physicians have an obligation to provide urgent medical care during disasters. This obligation holds even in the face of greater than usual risks to physicians’ own safety, health, or life.

Over the past year, physicians have exemplified Code 8.3by remaining steadfast in their commitments to “care for the sick,” even as COVID-19 has ravaged communities and intensive care units across the U.S. Why?Although it may sound cliche, most individuals who pursue careers in medicine do so because of a genuine desire “to help people.” Take these current and future physicians, for example:

My main reason for going into medicine, besides a love for medical science, was caring about and wanting to help others. People need help for a variety of reasons, but providing for their medical needs seems more significant, to me, than providing financial assistance or other kinds of help. – Retired Family Practice Physician 

Medicine was a calling for me. I decided to become a doctor when I was already working as a healthcare professional but felt unfulfilled in my position. I realized I wanted to play a bigger role in managing patient care and directly taking care of people. – Practicing Obstetrician / Gynecologist 

I have always trusted that the medical field is a Godly opportunity to save the comfort and dignity of humanity (or the quality of life), even though, on many occasions, we may fail to impact the quantity of life (which is often out of our hands and not a fixed part of a physician’s moral job description). – Practicing Hematologist / Oncologist

Growing up, I always knew I would do something in medicine. When my grandma got sick with leukemia, I helped take her to appointments and sat with her through endless chemotherapy treatments. I saw the oncologists at work and observed the impact they made on their patients on a daily basis. Through that whole process, I found my calling. – Internal Medicine Resident

Much of my family served in the military, and I want to become a doctor as a way of serving in another capacity. – Medical Student (U.S. Air Force Medical Corps) 

Being a doctor combines my desires to pursue knowledge, teach, and aid others in their journeys through life. – Medical Student (U.S. Army Medical Corps)

The details of their answers to the question “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” vary, but the common theme is evident: a love of service and passion for improving the lives of those around them. For so many physicians, the true dedication to helping others outweighs the risks to their own health—physical, mental, and emotional—posed by COVID-19. MSJDN is grateful for doctors’ continuing selflessness and sacrifice.

In addition to recognizing all of the civilian physicians, MSJDN would like to thank the Military Health System personnel who have also demonstrated an unwavering commitment to helping carry Americans, and America, through the pandemic. Since two COVID-19 vaccines received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in December of 2020, the United States military has utilized its large-scale logistical and medical capabilities to support ongoing vaccination efforts. By the end of February 2021, the Defense Health Agency (“DHA”) had administered over one million COVID-19 vaccinations to Military Health System beneficiaries at 343 military medical treatment facilities the world over. Just one month later, total vaccinations exceeded 1.8 million. Further, DHA personnel have been helping the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) efficiently administer vaccines to civilians across the United States. As of early March, over 2,000 active-duty service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps were deployed in teams to provide vaccination support at 17 DOD-supported sites and had already administered 500,000 vaccinations. By the end of March, the number of military personnel supporting the FEMA-led vaccination efforts had reached nearly 3,000, and vaccinations total exceeded 5 million. The men and women of the Military Health System are truly “Heroes Behind the Mask,” as they have “gone to heroic lengths serving their communities, their country, their fellow service members, and their patients.”

Please consider offering the doctor(s) in your life—whether in uniform or out—a verbal “thank you,” a thoughtful note, or anything else symbolizing your recognition of and appreciation for the monumental lengths they have gone to between this Doctors’ Day and the last.

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Zaina A. Niles holds a BS in Business Administration (emphases in Management and Human Resources), MHA, MBA, and JD (concentration in Alternative Dispute Resolution) from the University of Missouri. Throughout her education, Zaina held three internships in Missouri hospitals, worked in multiple career services positions, interned for a juvenile office and a federal magistrate judge, and served as the Editor in Chief for a leading ADR journal.

Post-graduation, Zaina worked at Sticklen & Dreyer, an award-winning personal injury law firm. She later joined the Kansas City office of Husch Blackwell, and Am Law 100 firm, as a part of the Litigation & Alternative Dispute Resolution team where she provides commercial clients a unique understanding of how the law, business, and healthcare align.

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