Our annual Top Doctors package explores local efforts to fight the novel coronavirus and profiles four Central Ohioans making a difference on the front lines of the pandemic.
We didn’t need a lot of deep thought this year to figure out what to focus on for our Top Doctors cover story, our annual opportunity to write about a major health care issue affecting Columbus. With the COVID-19 pandemic devastating Central Ohio and the rest of the world, the bigger question was how to narrow that topic.
Ultimately, we decided to go a little deeper than usual. In addition to our signature list of more than 500 of the best physicians in the region, we have two features about the local medical response to the new coronavirus: one that explores the all-encompassing scientific efforts underway at Battelle, Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital to better understand and fight the mysterious new disease and another that offers four profiles of devoted caregivers protecting us from the virus, including one on Jalee Helmuth from our cover.
We know we’re not alone in our admiration of these dedicated professionals, folks who run to the fire rather than away from it. And I suspect you’ll feel the same way after reading about their work, whether it’s bringing medical care to the homeless or working day and night to create a better COVID-19 test. Their commitment is inspiring and somewhat difficult to understand for those of us outside the medical field. It’s hard not to wonder how they manage the pressure of a job that puts them face-to-face with an implacable viral foe.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Ken Yeager has been helping his colleagues at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center deal with that anxiety. The medical field, of course, is always stressful—40 percent of physicians report burnout, Yeager says—but the pandemic has added a new dimension. To that end, Yeager and his colleagues have doubled the number of psychological services offered to med center staffers to help them cope. Programs include a 24/7 helpline, additional online resources, daily coping tips and fun videos shared with staffers to lighten the mood. “Nothing brings a smile quicker than laughing babies,” says Yeager, who directs Ohio State’s Stress, Trauma and Resilience program, or STAR, which offers psychological treatment for people affected by trauma.
Peer support has been particularly helpful, Yeager says. Reassuring words have more meaning if they come from someone who also knows what it’s like to watch patients die alone in forced isolation and to worry about exposing family members to infection. In the face of those monumental stressors, Yeager remains impressed with the fortitude of the nurses, doctors and other medical workers on the front lines. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them say, ‘This isn’t important,’ or ‘This isn’t my job description,’” he says. “What I hear them saying is, ‘This is why I became a nurse. This is why I became a health care professional.’”