Dr. Brianne H. Rowan '12

Dear fellow Juniatians,

I’m currently a 3rd year family medicine resident in Tacoma, Washington (just south of Seattle) and just finished a month on our busy inpatient medicine service. Our patients, like so many others in this country were admitted for all of the usual reasons, but also for COVID 19 - some to our general floors and others to our ICUs. What I discovered caring for these patients is that this pandemic requires a whole lot of, as one podcast I listen to put it, “unlearning.” Whereas I am used to evidence-based medicine and peer-reviewed randomized controlled trials to back up my decisions, in this pandemic we found ourselves basing our clinic decisions on recommendations found in emails from doctors in NY or Italy, or guidelines published yesterday based on a case study of 5 patients. Each day I needed to unlearn the latest treatment strategy from the day before and relearn a new one, because the “evidence” and recommendations were changing daily.

While I hope never again to face a time of such medical uncertainty, especially in the face of such a deadly illness, I do hope that all of us can learn to unlearn. I suggest that each of us start with unlearning who the true heroes are in this pandemic; it is not those of us who were privileged enough to graduate from a private liberal arts college and go to medical school, it is the janitors, the respiratory therapists, the nurses, the techs, all the people who show up despite inadequate pay for the danger they are putting themselves in. I suggest we unlearn that it is primarily the virus that kills people and relearn that it is the lack of of a centralized health care system and inequities in our insurance system that are leading to excess deaths. I suggest we unlearn that the inequity of this pandemic is that some states have access to more ventilators than other states and relearn that the inequity of our lives is the underlying systemic racism in our society is killing blacks at disproportionate rates.

We can learn to unlearn. I have fond memories of sitting in a conference room in Good Hall late at night and debating various interdisciplinary topics with my fellow Juniatians. Those same friends, now an expert in Chinese politics, a librarian / higher ed admin, a fellow physician, and a public arts manager, just this past weekend, helped me to process my month on service. Push each other to unlearn what our society has inherently taught us as privileged college graduates, and use your privilege to make change.

Stay safe (but more importantly - be a safety net for those who were never safe to start with)

Brianne H. Rowan '12

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