As the story of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, Abraham Verghese, MD, sees the champions of the modern age becoming more well-defined.
“My epiphany is that the heroes and heroines of this story that we’ve all lived through are all of you,” said Dr. Verghese, addressing the crowd of rheumatology professionals gathered Saturday morning for the Opening Session of ACR Convergence 2022, the ACR’s first annual meeting with in-person activities since the start of the pandemic.
In the Keynote Lecture: Physician, Patients and the Nature of Heroism in Medicine, Dr. Verghese shared his unique perspective on life in the COVID-19 era as a physician, a professor at Stanford University, and a New York Times bestselling author. The session is available for on-demand viewing for registered ACR Convergence participants through October 31, 2023, on the virtual meeting website.
As the number of COVID-19 cases grew, Dr. Verghese began to see the pandemic through the lens of a story—one that echoed some of the earliest recorded tales in human history, The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf. In each of these stories, an insatiable monster that requires human sacrifice must be confronted and defeated by brave heroes.
“We are without a doubt living through the story of our lives,” Dr. Verghese said.
He recalled the bravery and selflessness healthcare workers showed throughout the pandemic, reminiscent of the iconic heroes of literature. Some nurses avoided drinking water to prevent taking off their protective suits and slowing down patient care, for example.
Dr. Verghese used a photo montage to pay tribute to the thousands of “people in healthcare who perished in COVID from all walks of public health life—front desk folks, emergency medicine clerks, transporters, nurses, physicians, and as you can see, disproportionately represented by people of color and minorities.”
As society begins to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Verghese emphasized the importance of the human relationships between physicians and patients. He voiced his admiration for rheumatologists as some of the only caregivers who still examine their patients with physical touch. He noted that in any other societal context, a stranger touching another individual in this way would be considered a violation. This underscores how special the trust between a physician and a patient is.
“The great privilege of our profession is that in the context of doing an examination, we are allowed to touch,” Dr. Verghese said.
The Opening Session also featured the Presidential Address delivered by ACR President Kenneth G. Saag, MD, MSc. Dr. Saag also discussed the importance of trust between care teams and their patients. He identified four issues that he views as threats to the rheumatology profession: COVID-19, workforce challenges, medical mistrust and misinformation, and global geopolitical turmoil. Dr. Saag proposed various solutions to counter these professional threats throughout his address.
“You may be asking, ‘Why should we get involved with such issues?’ First, because we’re a trusted source of information, and we care,” Dr. Saag explained. “We follow the Hippocratic oath, and we care for even those with whom we may disagree. Our voices count.”
Dr. Saag and ARP President Barbara A. Slusher, PA-C, MSW, also recognized recipients of ACR’s Masters, ARP Awards of Merit, and ACR Awards of Distinction honors. In addition to this year’s winners, honorees from 2020 and 2021 were recognized in acknowledgment of ACR Convergence 2022 in Philadelphia being the first such in-person gathering since 2019.