The O&G Magazine Advisory Group must have had a premonition when they chose Self-Care for the Winter issue of the publication. How could they have predicted a global pandemic and the dramatic impact on health, healthcare, healthcare workers and the community? Beyond physical illness and death, the world is grappling with the economic effects that hurt now, but will last long into the future. The social and psychological distress is real and significant. We have witnessed the terrible suffering of populations across the world. Though Australia and New Zealand have not been spared death and disease, swift action to close borders, strict social distancing (an unfortunate term) and virtual lockdown appear to have been effective in flattening the curve. What lies ahead is uncertain, and nothing provokes anxiety better than uncertainty.
The need for self-care in the pandemic is perhaps self-evident, but it’s not a practice that healthcare workers, doctors, nurses or midwives do well. Patient first, family second, self last. Our vocation is to care for others and that is important and valuable. But when we forget ourselves there are consequences, for those for whom we care, for our families and for our personal wellbeing. It’s important to call it out. It’s important to remind the caring professions that self-care isn’t weakness or inadequacy. In fact, it’s a right and a responsibility. The expectations that we apply to patient care must also apply to ourselves.
In this issue, our authors cover both physical and mental health, the experience of our trainees, career progression and professional stages, the impact of adverse outcomes, disciplinary and legal processes and the different settings in which our members work – rural, remote and metropolitan. There’s information on the College’s support for the wellbeing of trainees and all members. We are pleased to welcome the aptly named Clare Wells, RANZCOG Wellbeing Coordinator, to the College who will work alongside Carly Morefield on Member Support and Wellbeing.
Former US President, John F Kennedy, is quoted as saying ‘The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.’ The COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to destabilise the College. Instead, I think that we can be justifiably proud of our response. The President, Board and Council have worked with the CEO and staff in a collaborative manner with a unified purpose. College House was closed and all staff, in both Australia and New Zealand, were working at home within three days. Council week was run entirely through virtual meetings. We continue to work from home, covering issues related to the pandemic and business as usual through (yet another!) Zoom meeting.
RANZCOG was the first College to issue specific guidance, first on pregnancy, then surgery, pregnant healthcare workers, telehealth, PPE, Māori, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, and many more. We made sure that our message was consistent across both countries. We chose to give high-level, evidence-based advice and acknowledged that local circumstances would determine regional responses. RANZCOG became the leading voice in women’s health in Australia and New Zealand. Our message on pregnancy has been translated into several languages and weekly videos from Board member, Dr Gillian Gibson and Senior Australian of the Year, Prof John Newnham, have kept our members, and the general public, reassured and informed.
The disruption for our members has been significant. Those in private practice have seen their incomes slashed while their expenses still continue. We have had to care for anxious and disenfranchised patients. For trainees, the cost is very high. Deferment of exams and assessments, changes in rotations and the abrupt cessation of elective surgery will all impact training. Rather than deny that fact, the College has actively engaged with trainees to explore innovative approaches to allow them to progress through their training. The trainees themselves have displayed amazing equanimity, a testament to their character and commitment.
What lies ahead will be challenging and difficult. Our College, your College, has taken its place as the leader in women’s health in Australia and New Zealand. We’ve achieved this together. I want to express my deep and sincere gratitude to all of you, my colleagues, my friends, the RANZCOG family. I’m looking forward to seeing you, in person, on the other side.