Contributions from our Research Community and from the Department's IDEA Committee

Published by David B. Roth, MD, PhD, on April 06, 2021

April 6, 2021 Update from the Chair

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

One of the most unexpected insights to come out of the global crisis is how much power rests on the individual. Every single one of us has a crucial role to play in fighting the pandemic and every action we take can help minimize the spread of the virus and will have an impact beyond our immediate environments. This is something I like to remind myself of, especially when news reports are grim and it feels like the end is not yet in sight.

I was therefore very grateful that Dr. Thea Gallagher, the Director of Penn Medicine's Outpatient Clinic at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA), was able to join us at our most recent Department Town Hall. She provided some very useful and concrete advice on how to build resilience and how to do the best with the resources available to us. At the heart of these efforts is the need to talk openly about how the pandemic is affecting the workplace and our roles in it.

As a physician-scientist by training and at heart, I know how hard the last year has been especially for our researchers and for all of the people working in their labs. The very nature of basic science work requires long-range perspective and persistent determination even in the face of seemingly unsolvable problems and questions. This is hard to maintain when your entire lab environment (and your home environment) has been thrown into disarray. So I am particularly proud of how our colleagues at the bench have managed to keep their focus—or redirect it in productive ways—and their energy during this time. To our research community: your ability to keep going and the creative ways in which you have reorganized your laboratory work are an inspiration to all of us.

Another inspiring contribution comes from all of those working together against bias and injustice. The Department's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism (IDEA) Committee, chaired by our colleague Dr. Nicole Aqui, is dedicated to creating a culture of acceptance, equality and openness. The members of the Committee are asking all of us to incorporate equity into our teaching, research, and laboratory practice. As the IDEA charter puts it: "We seek to amplify and support underrepresented voices and to create a compassionate environment where people feel safe and inspired to achieve their finest work. We will focus on addressing and eliminating systemic racism, bias, and discrimination in our sector, through intentional actions and impactful programs. We are determined to make the necessary changes that will enrich our department, enhance our clinical and scholarly excellence, and that will empower us to better serve the broader community."

This requires hard work, courage, and a commitment to honesty, as well as patience and a willingness to try new ways of thinking. Dr. Aqui has consistently demonstrated all of these qualities, including at our last Town Hall. Of the many resources she and her committee members have assembled for us already, I found two particularly helpful and illuminating: the "Ten Simple Rules for Building an Antiracist Lab" and the TEDx Talk on "The Myth of Bringing Your Full Authentic Self to Work."

I invite all of you to make use of these and the many other resources from the IDEA Committee. I am very appreciative of their work because I know that for me, and for many of my colleagues, there will certainly be layers of privilege and blind spots that we need to work through. 

Finally, I was reminded by someone recently that change is difficult because all change also entails loss. Even when we are making positive changes, some aspects of our usual way of life are changed, and we can experience loss as a result. So many changes have happened over the past year that it’s hard to keep track. And, as a result – we all have a lot to process. I encourage you to take time to do this, and not to simply "move on" to the next thing. 

For more than a year now, many of us have been pushed outside of our comfort zones. Some of us continue to make heroic efforts on behalf of others. Please be sure to spend some time taking care of yourselves. Remember: this is still a marathon, not a sprint—so even in the face of all the change and the various pressures, we need to find a way to pace ourselves and to allow ourselves to accommodate all these changes.

David Roth
Chair, Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these blog columns are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.