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Occupying Sacred Space: COVID as an Opportunity to Embrace Our Higher Calling

As trainees in hematology, we are exposed to vast amounts of human suffering. Our days are often spent experiencing the tragedy of others. Through fellowship, we develop habits to manage this suffering. Transitions off inpatient service or out of clinic allow us to learn to distance ourselves from this pain, and restrict suffering to where and when we are ready to address it.1

These habits may serve us well throughout our careers, but not now. Pandemics do not allow us to neatly contain human suffering. The suffering of others pours into all of us. As trainees, we not only experience it as humans but we are actively being asked (and sometimes forced) to walk right into it. Every trainee has been asked to serve, many on the front lines caring for patients with COVID-19.

Let us not see this time as an unwelcome detour in our lives, but as part of our higher calling as physicians. We studied medicine to devote our lives to serving others. Today more than ever, our patients need us. Many are suffering and dying alone. As physicians, we are privileged to be beside them. Their suffering is an open door to a sacred space that we can enter. They need us to walk into this space and let them know they are not alone, because we will be with them.

The calling to serve during the pandemic is not for individuals alone, but for our health- care community at large. Together (and we must do this together) our collective calling is to sacrificially serve humanity. These times are deeply troubling. Many, including trainees, will experience tragic loss. Although we will be tempted to hide behind emotional barriers to distance ourselves from the pain, let us instead lead with our hearts. Let love drive out fear.

This time will pass. We will again return to our usual clinical and research activities, though I would guess no longer the same. These experiences of great suffering will change us and our communities. May they produce in all of us greater perseverance, character, and compassion.

  1. Richardson DR. An education in human suffering. The ASCO Post. 2020; March 10.