Keeping Things in Perspective: My attempt at seeing the glass as half full with a list of pandemic positives

It’s been a long 18+ months in the world of Healthcare Science and Infection Prevention and Control. I’ve posted quite a lot about the pandemic here and how hard it’s been, especially coming into winter and the challenges that will bring. Challenges now acknowledged, it’s a Friday night, I have music playing and so I also wanted to reflect on what the pandemic has brought us that isn’t all negative.

Raised the profile of my profession

For many years I have had to try to explain what my job involved to the public, explain what polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and I’ve frequently been met with slightly glazed expressions. This is no ones fault, it’s just that those terms haven’t really meant anything for most peoples day to day life until the last couple of years. Suddenly public interest and awareness in not only testing and infection control, but also in the science behind these processes, has really been increased. Now I can hardly ever get a cab without being asked about how things work and what the current clinical situation is. If we engage well with this interest and awareness we will be able to have conversations about science and its impact on individuals and society for years to come, in a way we haven’t been able to before.

We’ve been invited into the room

Despite my love for my subject, microbiology has never been a sexy discipline. It’s never a topic that gets you into many strategic meetings where key decisions are being made, pathology as a whole is often left out in the cold when big decisions happen. Suddenly pathology, and microbiology in particular, have become a focus for decision makers. Healthcare Scientists as a professional group have often struggled to be invited to meetings, or even know that they were occurring. There has been a definite pivot over the last 18 months, with consideration of the importance of diagnostics in patient management. 80% of patient pathways rely on diagnostic impact at some point, it’s logical therefore that pathways can’t truly be optimised without considering diagnostics. So I for one am happy about the fact that by having a seat at the table we can work together to make this better, not just for SARS CoV2 but across all patient pathways.

The scientific and infrastructure legacy

Implementation of research techniques into clinical settings is always challenging, it requires access to space, finances and expert knowledge. We’ve always been very fortunate in the NHS, in that we have a lot of wonderful scientists who are really well placed to respond to scientific and clinical challenges by not just improving what they have, but by bringing in the latest research approaches. The things we have always struggled with are access to financial support to develop services and space in which to locate the new platforms required. One thing that has really struck me over the last 18 months is that the conversations in this regard have changed. Instead of flat out no, the discussion is about which is the best way forward and how can we make it work. This doesn’t mean that the answer is always yes, but it means that many of us have access to the infrastructure we need to really maximise patient care. The big question for us all now is how we maximise the legacy of that infrastructure to improve across challenges when this particular one is less enormous. This is a great problem to have and we need to ensure we actually spend some time thinking about the answer, rather than drifting into a solution.

Developed networks across boundaries and silos

It’s too easy in times of challenge and stress to react by becoming insular and regressing into known comfortable places, reinforcing silos and boundary based working. One of the things I’m proudest of for my profession and clinical colleagues is that instead of regressing into the known during the pandemic, they have instead reached across divides in order to form networks and learn from each other. This can’t have been easy to manage and yet the impact this has made has been really clear to me. At no time before as a scientist have I have been at a table with so many different professions, all with their own expertise, discussing, listening and learning from each other. I really hope that those networks and relationships that have been forged under such pressure will continue when we move back to a more standard healthcare model, as being part of those discussions has given me real pleasure.

I’ve got to know my colleagues much better

I am fortunate enough to be part of some exceptional teams (research, HCS education, IPC and microbiology). I’m not saying that the pandemic hasn’t on occasions challenged us and relationships within those teams, how can it not. The gift of those challenges has been however that we have come to know and understand each other in a way that would never have occured in a more standard situation. I spend more time with my teams than my family, I’ve known many of them for over 10 years, in many ways they are parts of my family. I’m super grateful therefore for the way we have bonded and deepened those relationships over the last 18 months, and it will only make us stronger to face whatever challenge happens next.

I’ve learnt so much about myself and my preferences/drives

Not only have I learnt more about my colleagues, but I feel I’ve learnt an awful lot about myself. The things that really matter to me, the things that drive me, the things that energise me and the things that drain me. For instance I have learnt that for me planning for the future is energising, whilst existing in constant responsive mode is draining. I miss sitting and planning research events, outreach events, teaching and developing the service. All of those things fuel my need for creativity and change. Living every working day in responsive mode where non of those things can happen I find incredibly draining, which is why my battery feels constantly empty. It’s why this blog has been a lifeline, even though it time consuming and yet another thing on my to do list.

The other thing I’ve learnt about myself is that despite appearances I’m more of an introvert than I knew. I’ve loved just spending time at home with my husband and not having the demands of a social life. I always knew that I could turn on ‘extrovert me’ for a given number of hours but then would reach a point where I needed to stop. Now I’ve discovered how happy and comfortable I am without the need to deal with those social demands in my world. I think I may try to keep my limited social circle up for some time to come as I feel happier and less anxious in small groups.

I’ve learnt so much and upskilled in so many areas

I didn’t realise until I came to sit down and write this blog how many new experiences I’ve had as a result of the pandemic that I would never have experienced otherwise. I’ve been involved with a life drawing class posing (fully clothed) as part of their pandemic professionals series. I’ve has my COVID-19 dreams painted as part of the Dream Appreciation process by DreamsID, the product of which I not only have for my office as an amazing piece of art, but has also been exhibited at the Freud Museum in London as well as other places. I’ve even been persuaded to take part in a stand up comedy show after training for National Pathology Week. These experiences have all developed skills and left me with memories that will last far longer than the pandemic. Many of them would never have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic pushing creativity and causing people to work and develop projects in new ways. Even this blog was started as a way of being able to still channel creativity and sharing in the pandemic. So I guess I’ve learnt a lot, and not just about viruses.

Enjoying the genius of responses from companies and professional bodies

This may be a weird one but I have rather enjoyed seeing companies and other professional groups trying to come to terms with the pandemic. It’s been really interesting and enjoyable for me to see people tackle difficult and sometimes repetitive messaging in a way that brings humour or innovation into the mix. I’ve also found it pleasing when big business or big names have channelled some of their resources into learning and other messaging to support the pandemic approach. It has often renewed my faith in mankind when other sections of the population have been busy destroying it.

Leicester General Hospital Genius Signage

If we can survive this we can deal with anything that’s thrown at us

Finally, I think it’s easy to forget how much we’ve achieved and how far we’ve come. No matter what your job, or the reason you’ve spent a few moments of your valuable time reading this blog – know that you have come far, that you have achieved much and that you are making a difference and having an impact. Sometimes you just need to step far enough back that you can see it. So thank you, all of you.

All opinions on this blog are my own

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