August 10, 2022

President’s Letter from C. Buddy Creech – Fostering Community Through Sharing Our Struggles

Just prior to the pandemic, a dear friend of mine introduced me to a phrase that increasingly comes to mind in group settings: When we share only our successes with each other, it breeds competition; but, when we also share our struggles and failures, it fosters community.

An aspiration of PIDS is to support a professional community in which individuals can come together to pursue common goals of innovation, impact, and inclusivity. Personally, I think we will accomplish that most readily by not only sharing with one another when things are going well – papers are published, grants are funded, or a promotion goes through, but also when things aren’t as easy – a paper is rejected, a grant is triaged, an evaluation isn’t quite as good as we hoped. 

I have found that most individuals desire a degree of relational transparency, but the activation energy required for the first step is extremely high. Therefore, let me be the first to start. 

The last two years have been exhausting. I’m far more cynical and tired than I feel like I should be. My productivity at work often feels inefficient and I sometimes go home tired and grumpy. My ability to cast vision for my research team or empathize with families when I’m on clinical service has taken a hit. The American psychologist, Dr. Herbert Freudenberger, used the term ‘burnout’ to describe these consequences of stress and high ideals in professions like ours. Unfortunately, it has taken us 50 years to rightly acknowledge the impact of burnout among physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.

I suspect that many of you are experiencing these symptoms, as well. I encourage all of us to periodically take inventory of where we are and how we are doing; in that mindfulness, we can then seek assistance, as needed.  

Why do I mention this to you? I have two specific reasons:

  1. Would you email, call, or text 1-2 PIDS colleagues that you haven’t seen in a while, just to check in? Many of us haven’t seen each other in person for a long time. When we see each other, we talk about our families, what’s going on at work, and typically trade stories about where life has us. I have found that our PIDS community serves as a remarkable prophylactic and therapeutic against burnout and I have missed it. I would simply encourage you to drop a quick note and check in on someone you would normally seek out at a conference. 
  2. We need to be mindful, when many of us gather in a few months at IDWeek, that the last 2 years have been hard, in different ways, for everyone. I encourage you, when seeing colleagues in a symposium, walking through poster sessions, or mingling at the Foundation Dinner, to not only ask the question, “how are you?” but to listen intently to the answer. Many of us are doing ‘fine’ or ‘okay;’ many bear the scars of lost loved ones, intense isolation, or professional demands that far outstrip our coping abilities. As you are able, provide space for conversation and community to happen. 

We’re at an incredibly stressful but rewarding time in human history. As COVID (surely) retreats to the rear-view mirror, we still have growing vaccine hesitancy, neglected tropical diseases, zoonotic infections, antibiotic resistance, and – wait for it – monkeypox on the road ahead. We should be proud of the work we are doing; but let us also acknowledge the toll the last two years have had on us, both individually and collectively, and work to strengthen our PIDS community. It’s who we are.

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