As attendees prepare to gather for ACR Convergence in person for the first time in three years, it feels necessary to acknowledge the unprecedented period of struggle and valor experienced across the healthcare industry while dealing with COVID-19, said this year’s Opening Session Keynote Lecturer. As a physician and author, Abraham Verghese, MD, has spent much time ruminating on the everyday heroism displayed by healthcare professionals and wants to encourage his colleagues to reflect on the bravery and sacrifice they’ve shown throughout the pandemic.
“I feel very connected to my rheumatology colleagues because they’re one of the last specialties that really examines the body,” Dr. Verghese said. “I suspect many of them were pulled into COVID to volunteer their time, and they continued to go on, to show up, and display a quiet heroism.”
Dr. Verghese will present the Keynote Lecture: Physician, Patients and the Nature of Heroism in Medicine during the Opening Session of ACR Convergence 2022 at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, November 12. Meeting participants have the option to attend the session in person or on the meeting website via livestream, or to view the session on demand.
Providers have always been on the frontlines of emerging diseases. Physicians disproportionately died from smallpox, typhoid, and cholera. When COVID-19 began to spread, healthcare workers suddenly found themselves exposed, yet again, confronting a deadly disease head-on.
“I had the sense that everybody who was here [in the clinical setting] had called on something deeper to show up every day,” Dr. Verghese said. “I saw true heroes among our staff, our colleagues in emergency medicine, our EMTs and paramedics, and really everybody who was up against this disease front and center due to their profession.”
Dr. Verghese also noted a secondary effect of the pandemic for those living with rheumatic disease. One of his friends with rheumatoid arthritis suddenly found it difficult to acquire chloroquine due to others stockpiling the drug in hopes of using it to lessen the symptoms of COVID-19.
“She, and many of the patients I care for, made me aware of the fact that people with chronic illnesses were already trying to dig deep and find their own resources just to live with this illness,” Dr. Verghese said. “Suddenly, they were part of a healthcare system that had other high priorities, but they also had to be taken care of. It was a very poignant thing to witness.”
When he isn’t working as a physician, Dr. Verghese spends his time writing. His last novel, the New York Times bestseller Cutting for Stone, was published in 2009. One of the main themes of his book was exploring humanism in medical practices. His new novel, The Covenant of Water, is set to release in 2023.
Despite his success as an author, Dr. Verghese still primarily identifies as a physician.
“The solidarity with my physician colleagues is terribly important to me and is a big part of my identity. When I come to speak with them, I feel incredibly privileged,” Dr. Verghese said. “My writing and speaking are not trying to teach them something. I am more interested in trying to voice a shared sentiment we all feel. Coming to meet with them is very special to me.”
The Opening Session, 8–10 a.m. ET in Exhibit Hall A of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, also includes a welcome message and Presidential Address from ACR President Kenneth G. Saag, MD, MSc, the ARP Presidential Welcome from ARP President Barbara Slusher, MSW, PA-C, and awards recognition.