Coronavirus Social: Two Digital Tributes and a Celebration

Liz Neporent

April 30, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The coronavirus may have ushered in the era of social distancing, but in some ways it has brought the global medical community closer together, even if it's online rather than in person. This week, there is a Facebook tribute to healthcare workers, universal sadness over a suicide, and a virtual swearing-in ceremony.

Virtual Candlelight Vigil for Fallen Coronavirus Heroes

Every Thursday evening, buildings all across the world glow blue in a show of support for healthcare professionals and essential frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It's part of the National Physicians Advocacy Coalition (NPAC) Light It Blue healthcare hero tribute campaign.

On Thursday, April 30, at 9:00 PM ET, the group is holding a 30-minute Light It Blue Facebook vigil "to raise awareness for the sacrifice, efforts and needs of those in healthcare." Anyone can participate in the event by leaving a comment or sharing a photo on a virtual memorial wall using the hashtag #LightItBlue. Throughout the half hour, a video created by the NPAC will play "to honor healthcare workers who risk their lives and those who have lost their lives."

"A healthcare vigil initially evolved as an idea when NPAC volunteer physicians saw the list of healthcare professions dying at alarming rates with little media coverage on their deaths," a statement on the NPAC's website reads. The site includes a link to the Medscape In Memoriam page, which lists the names of more than 600 healthcare professionals who have died from COVID-19.

Grief Over a New York Physician's Suicide

Deaths by suicide aren't always included in the official tally of coronavirus deaths, but that hasn't stopped social media from grieving over the suicide of emergency department physician Lorna M. Breen, MD, who had been immersed in treating COVID-19 patients at the epicenter of the disease in New York City.

Breen's obituary has been widely shared among physicians from all over the world on Twitter. Many acknowledge how difficult working in hard-hit areas like New York City has been for healthcare workers.

"Frontline workers are experiencing moral injury. Support for them is needed now, & for months/years following this pandemic," read one tweet from radiologist Ian Weissman, MD.

Tributes for Breen popped up on Facebook and Instagram, and on Reddit, hundreds of Redditors across several communities shared their sorrow over Breen's death. Quite a few said they understood how much stress Breen and others in her situation must be under, given the circumstances.

"While many hospitals have been compared to a war zone, the [one where Breen worked] actually looked like one. The acuity was insane. The amount of death was unimaginable. Bearing witness to that, especially when your own Herculean efforts feel fruitless in the face of the onslaught of unending death, will unquestionably take an immeasurable toll on even the toughest and most seasoned of us. Dr. Breen was a hero and a leader in the truest sense. Her loss to the staff there and to the community is great," wrote one Redditor who identified himself as a psychiatrist.

A Worldwide Virtual Hippocratic Oath

During a recent Zoom and FaceTime live video event, graduating medical students from all over the world gathered to simultaneously recite the Hippocratic Oath in their respective languages.

"The Hippocratic Oath is a rite of passage for medical students," one of the event's creators, Katayoun Madani, MD, a Northwestern Medicine global surgery fellow in the Division of Trauma and Critical Care Surgery, said in a statement. "It reminds us and declares we are all part of something infinitely greater, older and more important than any country, location, creed, race, gender, particular specialty or institution," he added.

It is not known how many newly minted physicians took part in the digital recitation. Mandani noted that many medical school graduations have either gone digital or have been canceled entirely because of the coronavirus. Some students are graduating early to help in the fight.

"In light of the new normal of social distancing, quarantine and in a time of isolation, we want to stand in solidarity with the class of 2020," Mandani said.

Liz Neporent is Medscape's executive editor of social media and community. She has previously worked at ABC News National as well as other major news outlets. She's based in New York City and can be reached at lneporent@medscape.net or @ lizzyfit on Twitter.

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