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Op-Ed: Checking in, not out: holding on to humanity as a doubledoc in today’s world

Posted by on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Student Spotlight.

by Ayesha Muhammad (G1)

Friday, March 15th, 2019 was a wonderful day across medical schools everywhere. Here at Vanderbilt, we cheered and applauded not only our wonderful MD classmates who matched to amazing residency programs, but also celebrated the hard work of all our MSTP colleagues, who, after 7 to 9 gruelling years of work, took another step towards their dreams and successful careers. However, while we were celebrating, only a few hours before, around 45 different households had their worlds upturned. Shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand left 50 people dead and many injured. Most of us were unaware.

I have stopped watching the news because it makes me substantially angrier the whole day, decreases my productivity, and kills my appetite. After all, how many horrible things am I supposed to empathize with? Don’t I have a limit to the emotional burden I can carry? Global warming, ISIS, white supremacist rallies, unethical farming practices, exploitation of human labor across the globe — the list goes on. It is easier to just…tune it out. Recently, I have started thinking about another potential solution — one that does not require losing my humanity by pretending the world’s horrors don’t exist.

There may be another way apart from checking out: checking in with those around me. Studies have shown that by sharing their emotions, co-workers can reduce anger and manage stress better. Furthermore, interdisciplinary sharing of emotional burdens increases teamwork and efficacy in healthcare settings . So maybe, just one day at a time, I could ask a friend or a colleague: “Hi friend, I know the world is hurting, so I just wanted to check in with you. How are you doing?” Maybe, some days I could extend that courtesy to myself. Hopefully, over time, instead of feeling like I can’t control anything — turning the realities in the world into white noise and giving up on advocating for causes I believe in — I could frame each instance of checking in with those around me as a useful data point, to remind me why I am training to be a physician-scientist. I might use that checking-in to fuel my fire. After all, wasn’t helping people, both with my knowledge of medicine and with the translational abilities of my research, a big part of why I chose to train as a doubledoc?

Checking in would generally be a great tool to have. I might be taking care of individuals who are victimized by the horrors of this world. I might even be working right alongside them: someone who doesn’t want to wear a rainbow flag pin on their shirt, because the event of Orlando in 2016 scared them; someone who might not share their ideas because they are scared of how people will treat them because of their accent; someone who might not say their last name — Muhammad — when introducing themselves, because they are scared of being labeled a terrorist. Maybe instead of checking out on the world, I can check in with my community.

  1. McCance, A. Silke, et al. “Alleviating the burden of emotional labor: The role of social sharing.” Journal of Management 39.2 (2013): 392-415.
  2. Lown, Beth A., and Colleen F. Manning. “The Schwartz Center Rounds: evaluation of an interdisciplinary approach to enhancing patient-centered communication, teamwork, and provider support.” Academic Medicine 85.6 (2010): 1073-1081.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Vanderbilt University.