On July 1, 2020, like many other freshly graduated doctors in the country, I started my residency in obstetrics and gynecology in the middle of a pandemic.
During the first weeks turned months of my residency, I learned to check a cervix, enter an abdomen laparoscopically, and place an IUD, all while reminding patients to pull their masks over their noses, again, please. I learned that I could secretly keep papers that I wanted to quote for my treatment plans in front of me while I sat at my computer instead of standing up at a podium while four gynecologic oncologists asked me questions. I learned to perform cesarean deliveries with two masks on, following muffled instructions from my attending as I held my scalpel. I learned the names of the many new people I have met in the last six months, though I don't know what the bottom half of their faces look like.
I don't fully understand the magnitude of what it means to be a physician in the face of a pandemic because I have never known anything different. Wearing masks and PPE, meeting virtually, and adapting to an ever-changing and difficult situation is all normal to me because I have no framework to compare it to. My senior residents talk of a time where we had education in person; a laboring patient could have more than one support visitor in the room; and we could go home for the holidays without asking our program director for permission to travel or providing a contingency plan for backup call should our family live in a state with high prevalence of COVID-19, which would require us to quarantine for 14 days unpaid upon our return.
But at the same time, medicine is still medicine. Yes, I am doctoring in a pandemic, but regardless of what is going on in the world, physicians will always show up, because there will always be patients who need our help. There will always be the new parents, the patients with incurable cancer, and the ones with giant fibroid uteruses.
I am constantly brimming with purpose and anger and tenderness at the circumstances that the world creates for our patients. But I also leave the hospital each day satisfied, hopeful for the future, and ready for the next challenge. I love what I do with ferocity, and that part of my job will stay the same long after the pandemic subsides.
Dr. Kathleen Ackert is an obstetrics and gynecology resident at St. Luke's University Health Network in Bethlehem, PA.
Photo: Dr. Kathleen Ackert after her first laparoscopic salpingectomy pictured with her attending, Dr. Richard Baker.
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions in the Frontline Voices initiative reflect experiences of individual ACOG members and do not represent official organizational opinions of ACOG.