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My blog last month comprehensively covered the year that has been. It is hard to believe it has been only a year.

We should all be endlessly proud of the mahi, or work, our people have undertaken. I know, deeply, the struggles that have been faced: by our Emergency Physicians dealing with unprecedented challenges; by our trainees confronting uncertainty over examinations on top of additional workplace complexity; and by our College leadership and staff who have done so much to support our efforts.

It is perfectly understandable that so many of us are eager to see the back of this year.

So, today, we look forward to the year ahead. What will 2021 look like?

Our island nations of Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, in the final stages of 2020, appeared to have achieved fragile victories against COVID-19 – that fragility highlighted by the recent worrying outbreak in the northern beaches of Sydney, and the associated renewed uncertainty. Amid ongoing challenges, we strive to maintain our relatively well-off position, as we await the assistance of a vaccine.

Virtually everywhere else in the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, our colleagues are still struggling. While we cautiously celebrate our successes in the slow fight against COVID-19, we know there is much more work to be done, and many more questions and uncertainties. These may or may not be answered or resolved in the weeks and year ahead.

It is true that parts of the responses of our respective nations to COVID-19 have been far from perfect. However, everything becomes clearer with hindsight and we must learn the lessons and seek improvements for the future. Where we can, we must maintain a sense of optimism about this.

While the world has been consumed by the fight against COVID-19, other issues persist and loom. We saw this year the realisation of decades of climate predictions, with a devastating summer of bushfires in Australia. We all look with some trepidation towards the coming summer. What further disasters await unless we act urgently on climate change?

As Emergency Physicians, we are trained to provide the highest standard of care in the most trying of circumstances. Many of these circumstances are unavoidable; many are not.

So we must continue to stand united, as a College and as a profession, and continue our advocacy. To change and improve what we can.

We will fight on.

We will fight on, for there should be ‘no going back’ to the ‘business as usual’, which allowed dangerous access block and ED crowding to become entrenched in our healthcare systems and hospitals.

We will fight on for equity of access to healthcare for all — particularly our Indigenous populations.

We will fight on for better systems, care options and resourcing that improves the care provided to people who need mental health support.

We will fight on to provide the world-class care all of our communities deserve.

We will fight on for action on climate change.

This is what we look to fight on for and this is what we will do.

Right now though, as 2020 draws to a close, it is time, as much as is possible, to recoup, to reflect and to find opportunities for rest.

For most of us, our vital work cannot be switched off over the summer break; it carries on — and so must we.

Whilst many parts of the health system shut down for the holiday season, our EDs never do, and summer can be busier than ever. That recognised, we must find moments to rest where we can.

We must rest and regroup in order to keep addressing the major issues and challenges we face — for we are in this for the long run. As Emergency Physicians we face these issues on different levels every day we come to work. This year, like so many in our communities, we have done so at extraordinary levels. We are weary. Our work can take a toll.

So now, I hope you can take time for reflection. Please take the time to remember the year that has been, and to pride yourself on your exceptional work.

Now is the time for connection. Some borders within Australia have opened, although we acknowledge the additional uncertainty and restrictions imposed as a result of the outbreak in Sydney.

There is serious discussion of a trans-Tasman travel bubble from March. There will be, for some of us, festive season opportunities for reunions with our whānau, our families, our friends.

Never have the values of the festive season felt so authentic, but many of us will still be away from our people, across oceans and other divides. If you can, hold your loved ones close. If you cannot be with them in person, then reach out through phone or other virtual means.

For those of you who manage some time off work over the holiday period, I wish you a safe and replenishing break.

For those of you continuing to work, be safe and be well. I know you will continue to provide the highest standards of care to your patients.

Enjoy each other. Value your connections, whatever shape they take. And don’t forget compassion — for your patients, for your colleagues, and for yourselves.

Because we know what got us through this year, don’t we? It was each other.

So, as I close out this message, I am reminded of this whakatauki, or proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata! He tāngata! He tāngata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou,

Dr John Bonning
ACEM President