To everyone else, I am pleased to meet you, and I am honoured to be stepping into this role to serve you, our fantastic specialty, emergency medicine, and of course, the communities we live and work in. There are some wonderful people who have been here before me, and it is a privilege to be stepping into their (sometimes colourful) shoes, and I give thanks to each of them.
As the second woman President in our history, I also want to give thanks to the women FACEMs who have come before me, who walk beside me and who will come after me.
As we come to the end of this year, I imagine you, like me, are feeling exhausted in ways that are new.
This year has been, for most of us, profoundly challenging. When COVID-19 struck, I don’t think many of us thought that we would still be dealing with it, almost two years later.
This year we pivoted, we problem-solved, we wrote and re-wrote guidelines, and we rearranged our emergency departments to be safer.
We sweated under PPE, we were furloughed due to COVID-19 exposures, we Zoomed, we huddled, and we dealt with the crushing weight of access block.
Our trainees have had to deal with sitting examinations – stressful at any normal time – in this midst of all of this.
For many of us, especially in COVID-19 affected regions, we managed change and uncertainty in the context of an increase in pressures and the absence of joys. Lockdowns kept us away from the stuff that sustains us: we could not eat a meal at a restaurant, play or listen to music in person, there was no sport, no gym, no theatre, no art galleries, no casual catch-ups with colleagues and friends.
As borders opened and closed – mostly closed – we were shut off from our nearest and dearest. We worked busy shifts then came home to restless, cooped-up children in need of home-schooling. In regions not dealing with an outbreak, we watched the news anxiously, wondering if, and when, COVID-19 would arrive and overwhelm our already struggling hospitals.
And the challenges continue. Now we are contending with working while at any minute a family member might be exposed to, or be diagnosed with, COVID-19 and we will need to quarantine with them. The Omicron variant, despite early evidence suggesting it is not more dangerous, had us all saying anxiously, “Not again!”.
The reports of the first Australian healthcare worker death from COVID-19 hit us all hard. Melbourne emergency nurse Gillian 'Jill' Dempsey’s death is a reminder that we are not through this. It is a reminder that we face danger each time we go to work. It is a reminder to remain vigilant. We offer our deepest condolences to Jill's loved ones, and our support to her colleagues, who we know will be greatly affected by her loss.
But things are looking up. Vaccination coverage across our two nations is high and state borders are coming down, meaning that, for some of us, the chance to be reunited with loved ones soon is a real possibility.
So, as we move into summer, I would like to ask that you, please, as much as possible, rest, recover, and try to find some joy.
I know it can sound frustratingly platitudinal to recommend self-care and wellness when we are working within systems that are not functioning in ways that are sustainable. We are all aware of the need for structural improvements to our healthcare systems, including measures that would deliver us the capacity to actually self-care. I know all of this, deeply. But still I ask it: please, where you can, find opportunities for regeneration and, if you have lost your spark, please find ways to relight it.
Please recall and engage in those activities that nourish you. Please reach out to your friends, your colleagues and to your College for help. Emergency medicine is a tight-knit group and we are here for each other. We spend our lives helping others, but we cannot do so if we are burnt out and exhausted. The famous saying, to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, has never been so truthful as we come to the end of 2021.
Thank you for everything you have done this year, thank you for sticking with us. As always, we got through it together, and we will get through whatever is next, together.
Dr Clare Skinner