At a panel session, I once introduced myself as an American-born Asian (Chinese) woman, whose pronouns are she/her, married, previously divorced, a wife, non-mother (so far, by choice), and a daughter of immigrants. I’m also an emigrant, having ventured elsewhere some years after my training. Last year’s events unearthed another aspect of identity that emerged into prominence for physicians in particular: political identity. While professional identity formation as a physician has long been the subject of intense study, medical education program design, and continued developmental efforts, political identity has been given far less attention.
Consider, for example, study findings published last October that estimated physician voter registration in California, New York, and Texas, among some of the most populous U.S. states, at 14% less than that of the general population.1 Yet, there is no question that political identity has also become entangled with professional identity, as physicians—many among SGIM ranks—engaged in a variety of ways in the democratic process not just in 2020 but well before. One might also say there is no longer any room to “fear seeming political while practicing medicine,” as the study above suggested.
As 2021 continues, we demonstrate our values through our actions, much like our upcoming annual meeting theme of “Transforming Values into Action.’ We bring our whole selves, including our intersectional identities, to the table and reinforce our values and actions through community and belonging. In this issue of Forum, articles offer a variety of perspectives from our community’s common identity as general internists and members of SGIM. Jean Kutner, SGIM president, shares her own SGIM journey and sage advice from long-time leaders in the Society on getting engaged. Eric Bass, SGIM CEO, teams up with Schwartz and Staiger, chairs of the Leadership in Health Policy Program, to provide a vital update on a new primary care coalition in partnership with other professional organizations. Kwolek, et al, and Shrivastava and Bennett, offer two articles from the Women and Medicine Commission, introducing their new Workgroup on Parenting initiative launched in November 2020 and offering a program director’s leadership view on policies to promote a family-friendly residency environment.
As of mid-December 2020, the first waves of COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States have only just begun. Peek offers a critical commentary on equitable vaccine access for the most vulnerable communities suffering from poor outcomes COVID-19 due to structural racism. Reflecting on an earlier stage of the pandemic, Kutscher and Kladney compare COVID-19 test counselling benefits during the pandemic to those of HIV test counselling during the AIDS epidemic. From the front lines, Holliday shares her emotional journey of caring for a dying COVID-19 patient as a resident and facilitating his family’s final goodbyes remotely.
We experience every encounter in our professional and personal lives through the prismatic facets of our identities. Yet, each of those facets is not necessarily immutable. Despite the uniqueness of every individual physician, we can clearly work collectively, collaboratively, and respectively—and we have—towards common goals founded on common, strong values. Let’s keep doing what we do best as physicians, our shared professional identity, and do so together.