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New year holds promise of new start

Perhaps like me you see the end of the year as a time for reflection – an opportunity to assess what has recently passed and the lessons that have been learned. I find it is a time also to be honest with myself.

As we enter our third pandemic winter, certainly there is plenty upon which to reflect. As well, like many of my colleagues in health care, I find myself exhausted. I suspect we are all exhausted. Exhausted from fear of the invisible and the unknown. Exhausted by sickness. Exhausted by social distancing and lost social opportunities. Exhausted from what we must do and what we must not. Exhausted by grief for those whom we have lost. Exhausted from wondering what comes next.

It is perfectly reasonable to feel this way in the wake of the struggles that we have collectively experienced over the last three years. Yet I firmly believe too that these last three years have taught us something good and hopeful about ourselves.

This great challenge has tested our mettle and has revealed our resilience.

I have seen my neighbors reach out to one another to lend a hand. I have observed my community pull together to solve problems ranging from access to testing and vaccines to the sharing of vital information and resources in response to a once-in-a-century pandemic. I have watched community leaders make difficult decisions for the good of the whole.

I have witnessed my professional colleagues working double-time to minister to the health care needs of the young and old alike. I have seen them make personal sacrifices for the sake of their patients and our community. I have seen them save countless lives.

Our system of health care and public health, as imperfect as it may be, has responded courageously to a frightening situation. I believe it has learned and improved. In many instances it has excelled.

There is light at the end of this tunnel. Even as we face a difficult third pandemic winter, this time accompanied by old foes such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, there is hope for the coming year.

As much as December is an ending and a time for reflection on lessons learned, it also brings the promise of a new start.

As we move forward, certainly from the perspective of personal and public health, there is much to be done. We need to shake off a few bad pandemic-era habits and establish new healthier ones. We must re-engage preventive care and the management of chronic diseases. Health literacy, based on sound clinical science, should become a priority for all.

I am confident that the coming months and years will provide many new opportunities, informed by the past three years, for a better and healthier future.

Dr. Matthew A. Clark, a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics, works for the Indian Health Service.