I have a bag of lapel pins that I like to wear on my white coat. Three weeks ago, I came across a pin that I bought from the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture in 2019. The pin is black with gold lettering that says: "Keep Going". After a week of working in the hospital, this message was something that I needed to hear. At that time, the number of COVID positive patients was increasing by the day and the level of anxiety on the units was palpable. We had several "close calls" with patients who were admitted for other issues, but later thought to have novel coronavirus. After our second close call, COVID-19 was on the differential for every patient we admitted. It didn't take us long to realize that this pandemic is one of the greatest health care crises we've ever faced. The reports of health care workers getting infected and dying is frightening. The data showing how the virus is disproportionally affecting communities of color is infuriating. History has shown that crises have a way of damaging our most vulnerable communities and COVID-19 is no different. Yet, when I came across this pin, I found some encouragement. When you visit the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, it's recommended that you start your experience in the basement, which chronicles the transatlantic slave trade. From there you work your way up through from the lowest level of the building to the top, each successive level taking you further along history. If there is anything you take away from your visit, it's that our ancestors showed us that in the midst of a struggle you don't quit, you keep going. They endured slavery, segregation, and systemic racism. They fought in wars (at home and abroad), marched in the streets, and organized in their communities. When the odds were not in their favor, they persisted. While we still face many of the lingering struggles our ancestors dealt with, we have a new challenge today. We are fighting a virus that we cannot see. We have limits in our ability to test for COVID-19. In other parts of the country, providers lack personal protective equipment to care for patients. The task before us is daunting, yet we can draw upon the same grit and determination that fueled earlier generations. African Americans are not the only people to experience struggle in history, people everywhere have survived some of the world's worst catastrophes. And if our ancestors were able to endure, we should too. It's in our DNA……literally! For all of my physician colleagues, for the nurses, NP's, PA's, and hospital employees who are risking everything in the service of others, and giving their all during this crisis, we must Keep Going.
Claiborne B. Childs, MD, MS
Director of Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives, Internal Medicine Residency
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine
Department of Medicine, Section of Hospital Medicine
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania