Mutating for Good

Yes, the virus mutated. We knew it would. And no, some of the vaccines may not be 100% effective for the new mutations. It doesn’t matter. Our best chance at preventing new mutations—let’s avoid a “Minnesota” variant—is to control the spread of the virus we have now. Vaccines, masks, distance, and avoiding groups are as critical now as at the beginning before we were tired of them.

The good news is that we have changed, too. We are used to hearing “people resist change” or “people hate change.” I, and others, believed it. But after nearly a year of COVID-induced adaptation, I think that a more accurate statement is “people resist change unless they understand why it is needed.” We have seen people adapt to enormous changes over the past year with far more success than we could have anticipated, and this begs the question: “What changes will it benefit us to bring forward once the pandemic no longer controls everything we do?”

Although we all want the stress and trauma of treating COVID-19 to go away, we should keep the support systems we have developed, like the Minnesota Resilience Action Plan (MinnRAP). We should expand it. Combatting fatigue and burnout isn’t new to the pandemic, and we can learn from what worked (and what didn’t) to help physicians and other caregivers going forward.

Our researchers have overcome unbelievable obstacles to pivot or continue their work. The speed of launching clinical trials, the out-of-the-box thinking, and the disintegration of silos are all things we will continue to build on. The sense of urgency that came from working on things to save patients and keep clinical providers safe gave us an edge that we need to keep. Our shared goal in the Medical School is to translate research into improved clinical care. This year we got to see this in real time with our nationally recognized diagnostic testing programs and high patient survival rates.

Education has experienced challenges that we could never have anticipated. And yet, our faculty transformed curricula and adapted teaching practices to help overcome physical limitations by introducing virtual simulations, Zoom classrooms, and other tools. Our students, in turn, have shown extraordinary determination to continue their education, provide service however they are able, and stay focused on the mission to provide patient care as they returned to the clinical setting.

Administratively, we have maintained productivity in the face of challenges like working from home, juggling competing responsibilities, and having to learn new ways to get things done. In sum, we cannot predict the future beyond the fact that things will continue to change and new challenges will emerge. What we can be certain about is that we will continue to learn from all of these experiences and carry those lessons forward.

Every time I think about what everyone in this Medical School has achieved this year―faculty, staff, students―I am overwhelmed with gratitude and excited to see what we can accomplish together this year. Thank you.