April 13, 2020 at 11:16AM
Mark Shapiro, M.D., is an internist and the associate medical director for hospital services with St. Joseph Health Medical Group in Sonoma County, California. He is also the creator and host of the Explore the Space podcast, which considers the relationship between health care and society.
We spoke with Shapiro about working in the medical field during the COVID-19 outbreak and how it’s affected his work and personal life.
1. What was your life like before we learned about COVID-19, in terms of your self-care and maintaining a sense of well-being in and out of the hospital?
I was in a pretty good place balancing family life, my clinical and leadership work, Explore the Space podcast, and my own self-care. Keeping an exercise routine, good nutrition, reasonable sleep, and having fun were things I was feeling more and more comfortable with.
2. Before COVID-19, what did you most struggle with in terms of self-care?
Staying present and “in the moment.”
3. If you can remember, where were you when you first learned about COVID-19 as being a real threat to us in North America? What were your initial impressions?
I remember the first time reading in the New York Times that Wuhan, China, was being locked down. When I finished that article, I felt sure that COVID-19 was going to be a huge issue worldwide.
4. What has your experience been like on the front lines generally?
I remain so impressed by the incredible agility, energy, and creativity demonstrated by the entire profession of medicine. In my daily work, I am so proud and amazed by the consummate professionalism demonstrated by everyone hard at work in the hospital. As I write this, my region is under a “flattened curve,” which affords us more time to continue preparation and learn as much as we can as fast as we can.
5. What sorts of things have you put into practice now, from a “public health” point of view to help lower the risk of COVID-19?
Like so many doctors and health care professionals, entering my house after a day of work is totally different. Bleaching shoes; changing out of scrubs; cleaning my car, phone, everything; then racing straight into the shower has become normal. In parallel, working to educate the public through all platforms available to me around the importance of social distancing has been critical and feels very mission-driven.
6. How has being on the front lines affected your sense of well-being—this includes physically, emotionally, and your relationships. What have you most struggled with during this time?
I carry a new sense of weight and dread thinking about my friends and colleagues at the front lines around the world. I don’t mind sharing: This has disrupted my usual sense of well-being and my daily habits to maintain my well-being. This has manifested primarily around my sleep quality. At the same time, I feel closer and more connected to friends and family; there is a different level of energy and transparency in our conversations via phone, Zoom, text, or in person.
7. Do you have any ideas, resources, tips, tricks, or advice that you’ve put into practice to optimize your well-being and that might help other health care professionals?
Find outlets to share the anxiety and fear you may be feeling. At the same time, support others in doing some sharing of their own.
8. What have you learned most about yourself (and your family, if you choose to share) during this time? How do you believe you have grown/will grow through this? How will the health care system improve after this?
I see the tectonic plates of medicine shifting quickly, and I think many of the changes we are seeing now will become the new way we do things. The trust, energy, and professionalism being shown by health care professionals are simply stunning; it cannot be taken for granted and must be carefully supported and amplified.
9. Any piece of advice, a quote, anything motivational that you’d like to share for our readers?
When I’m feeling daunted or frightened, I remind myself that there is no alternative. This helps me to step into tension and move forward.
10. What makes you most hopeful right now?
The energy, transparency, and creativity being demonstrated across the spectrum of health care by the most wonderful and committed professionals I could ever dream of knowing.