Dear Feinberg School of Medicine community,
We write to you because we are at a moment in history where we cannot be silent.
In response to COVID-19, we have seen the best in humanity: courage, compassion, character. The stories emerging out of hospitals across the country have lifted our spirits and cemented exactly why we chose the paths of medicine and life sciences. There has never been a more important time to be a student, investigator, or practitioner of healthcare. We extend our deepest gratitude to our amazing Northwestern Medicine healthcare teams and our essential workers. Thank you.
But recently, we see a different humanity: the death of humans, Black humans, at the hands (knee) of another human. Due process is needed, but what we have seen is deeply disturbing. We see anger, despair, fear, pain, racism, and unfortunately, violence. In response to the question we all field every day – “You OK?” – many of us can no longer flash the thumbs up or nod accordingly; it is clear, we are not OK. Not just those among us of color, but many in our community are feeling an acute pain.
As a campus community, we reach out to you because all of us are stewards of human health. As physicians, scientists, and students, we respond to a higher moral calling. An important lesson learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that health is not secure without deep consideration of the social construct, which is only possible with an intact and executable social contract. The absence of either will replicate and extend the disproportionate disease burdens we incessantly experience; it will require the continued allocation of precious time and resources to correct what, at root cause, is a social malady. We cannot be the practitioners of superb healthcare and the purveyors of knowledge without maintaining our consciousness about our now grossly evident social failings.
As much as the gallantry in our response to COVID-19 reaffirms our commitment to human health, so too should the deep chasms in our social fabric validate precisely why we should be socially aware and engaged. We passionately believe that medicine is a pursuit of the highest level of competence, a responsibility to be civil, and a calling to be compassionate. What can we do as individuals? A number of choices emerge, including the choice of peaceful protest which is being exercised by so many (but exploited and abused by others). We encourage you to stay connected with those you love and who love you; rely on that compass to guide you. We implore you to eschew silence; the quiet voice tacitly supports the active discord. And, we encourage you to maintain your own health, now more than ever health is the only commodity of value; we need you whole.
As students, trainees, educators, investigators, and healthcare practitioners, our professional directions are clear and in keeping with the ethos of Northwestern Medicine: we re-affirm our commitment to better health and equitable healthcare; we intensify our investment in discovery science; we make certain that our actions, no matter how small, are consistently just and equitable; we use the lessons learned over these past several months to exercise our own self-inventory of competence, civility, and compassion; and we respond to current events not with indifference but with resolve.
There is a better normal that awaits and we intend to be part of the solution. There will be a post-COVID-19 world and there will be a world after recent horrors: in that new world, we will remain the stewards of human health and the custodians of the ill. Let us expand our social curriculum and learn experientially from the entirety of the events (so far) of 2020.
Now more than ever, let us aspire to be exemplars of courage, character, and equity.
Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc
Vice Dean for Diversity & Inclusion
Feinberg School of Medicine
Eric G. Neilson, MD
Vice President for Medical Affairs
Lewis Landsberg Dean
Feinberg School of Medicine