A lot has been written and spoken about the severe impacts COVID-19 has had on almost every aspect of our work and lives, in both broad and specific terms. The additional stress, disruption, anxiety, uncertainty and workload pressures have been immense. As a College, we have of course spent a lot of time considering and attempting to address the myriad of issues through complex and involved work and activities.
In trying circumstances, with rapidly changing goalposts, great work has been done, and we should be proud of what has been achieved. It hasn’t been easy though. Extreme disruption has required rapid adjustment to new ways of working as a College, as well as in our EDs.
Certainly, the digital age has provided advantages in terms of virtual connectivity, but it has also provided some challenges and downsides to our ways of interacting.
Face-to-face meetings, interstate and international travel, interspersed with some email discussion and phone contact was our previous modus operandi. In our new normal we contend with countless Zoom meetings, increased screen time, rushed emails or text messages. These are often sent early in the morning or late at night, or whilst attempting to multi-task, before or following shifts. They are sometimes disjointed or involve separate discussions occurring concurrently on similar topics with multiple colleagues or College staff, who themselves are facing their own challenges, working remotely and physically isolated.
Zoom definitely has its limitations. Only one person can speak at a time, our visibility of colleagues on screen can be difficult, it is very difficult to nuance, detect emotions, read facial and other non-verbal expressions, and interruptions are frequently unintentional. More often than not, the speaker will receive no real-time feedback as to how their words are being received, and the same applies for email.
Where previously complex issues or disagreements may have been thrashed out in person, in meetings, over a coffee, during breaks between meeting sessions or at informal get togethers, now, much of this must be done virtually, and in a manner that can feel somewhat impersonal, lacking nuance, providing minimal immediate feedback, and which can, unfortunately, lead to misunderstandings.
Whilst I accept that little can be done to change where we are at, and many struggle with much greater health or other challenges, I have certainly struggled at various times with the lack of face-to-face contact, regular in-person conversations and interactions with colleagues and College staff on both sides of the Tasman. I am sure many of you will have felt or experienced similar. This, along with hitting send on an email that we subsequently wished we had paused and thought more about, before sending.
In this context, it is important to remind ourselves of the need for kindness, civility and understanding, and to reflect on how frustration, stress and, at times, anger, which we understandably all feel as we move through these very difficult times, can impact our interactions with others.
We are, after all, the most sociable of creatures and it is incredibly hard to have to completely abandon, at least for now, the face-to-face element of our complex communication. I have always preferred the term “physical distancing” to social distancing and I believe that now, more than ever, we need to be socially close.
Reflecting on our College’s Core Values of Equity, Respect, Integrity and Collaboration remains an important foundation for this; seeking to embody these values in our daily lives; in our interactions with our patients and each other.
It is timely also to note this recent statement from AHPRA on social media use – reminding us of our professional obligation amid the need for ongoing, robust yet respectful discussion.
As a College we appreciate the significant challenges to communication the pandemic continues to present, and recognise that this is exacerbated terribly by any number of personal and professional challenges, stresses and anxieties.
It is our collective responsibility to set and live by the highest possible standards in our dealings with others, as we confront the reality that we will have to keep working this way for the foreseeable future.
We are, after all, only human. We are doing our best, and kindness, understanding, patience and compassion will continue to go a long way to help us all through a period that is pushing us all to our limits.
Thank you all for your ongoing work and support.
Dr John Bonning