Physicians can learn a thing or two from disaster planners. When mandatory evacuation orders were issued during Hurricane Katrina, 44 percent refused to evacuate, some because they didn’t want to part with their beloved pets. Before Katrina, most disaster preparedness plans did not take pets into account. Now, a prerequisite of FEMA funding is that officials must accommodate household pets into disaster plans. Not surprisingly, it works. During Hurricane Sandy in New York City, officials allowed pets onto public transportation, and there were no stories of people refusing rescue because they would be forced to abandon their pets.
The lesson: Policymakers learned that in planning for natural disasters, we must think creatively and consider all the factors that might affect a plan’s effectiveness.
As physicians, we often focus too narrowly on addressing the problem in front of us and, as a result, miss unconventional “prescriptions” that would more effectively provide relief. It is easy to prescribe a pill to a patient. It is more difficult to “prescribe” healthy food, clean water, or heating in their homes. If you think about it, there is no reason why this should be the case. So then why is it that we’ve not adopted this practice?
Whatever the reason, the less we challenge our assumptions in search of new, creative, more effective solutions, the more we let our patients down.
As my term ends, I think about the expectations that I brought into my position. They could not have been further off.
I’ve met so many incredible, accomplished people while working for AMSA. We have some of the most talented, smart, and dedicated members in the country—strong work, AMSA! Each of you has taught me so much, whether it was the medical implications of free trade agreements or how congressional budgets affect medical students. I’ve also been so lucky to work with a smart, talented and dedicated AMSA staff. I will carry the lessons they’ve taught me for the rest of my life. From my family, I’ve learned what support really means.
Finally, I’ve been lucky to have such great mentors in former AMSA presidents, like Drs. Jim Slayton, Leana Wen, and Charlie Clements. They not only taught me AMSA’s long history of being a strong, independent voice for physicians in training, but that AMSA transforms medical students into leaders in our profession. Their continued efforts show that our work doesn’t end here, it begins here.
Like every president, I naturally focused on the changes I hoped to accomplish during my presidency. But what I didn’t expect was the extent to which AMSA would change me. Thank you all for permitting me to serve as your national president. It has been an incredible, exciting, and transformational journey. I will miss you all.
Dr. Nida Degesys is AMSA's national president.