Ask Jesse: How do medical professionals learn to remain calm under pressure?

One medical resident working with COVID-19 patients describes how she maintains her composure.

The Question: How do medical professionals keep their cool in the most stressful of situations?

With stories describing the scene in hospitals around the world, our gratitude for health care professionals is at an all-time high.

While we can look at numbers and heart rate data all we like, it ultimately comes down to that person’s ability to control their own composure. So I reached out to someone I know far too well — Dr. Jillian Irwin, a resident physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Located in Baltimore, JHMI is currently one of the nation’s most proactive hospital systems battle the COVID-19 outbreak. Presently, Dr. Irwin is finishing the final few months of her residency in internal medicine, and is also my older sister.

Follow-up: What sort of actions is the hospital taking to prepare itself for cases of COVID-19?

Answer: To fight COVID-19, Irwin says the hospital has redeployed staff members to work in intensive care units, and while she says the gameplan can change from day-to-day, they’re currently taking volunteers for various positions in order to have staff ready to spring into action when called upon. Her role being one of many in the hospital that has shifted in order to assist the growing number of Coronavirus-related cases in the area. While she can’t speak for the teams that have designed the institutional structure for this unique scenario, she does have confidence in JHMI in large because of how early the hospital began preparing for whatever the near future holds.

Follow-up: Is a hospital the worst place or the best place to be right now?

Answer: In terms of number of exposures, Irwin says it’s safe to assume there are more potential exposures to the disease in her hospital than there are for someone staying at home on their couch, although she says there is data coming out of Washington saying there’s lower transmission among healthcare workers than there is within communities. While this is in large part due to the level of caution that those working in a hospital take, she hopes that anyone working in those positions is taking extra steps to ensure they aren’t leaving work with even the possibility of bringing a speck of the virus out the door with them.

Johns Hopkins Resources:

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