BY KATHY JAMES – No one will dispute that the year 2020 had its challenges, the biggest being COVID-19, the global pandemic. It was and is devastating to so many people for so many reasons in terms of life, livelihood, and mental health. It is too soon to know its total measurable impact just yet, but what if we were able to jump ahead five or ten years and have the perspective of hindsight regarding the year 2020? What would we see looking back on such a life-altering year?
Most obviously we might see 2020 as the year that created a more global approach to science and medicine. The speed by which various COVID-19 vaccines have been discovered and produced is unprecedented. Prior to 2020, advances in vaccines had been mostly passive for the past two hundred years. Edward Jenner, vaccine pioneer in the late 1700’s would be amazed if he was alive today. As a result of the motivation and pressures created by 2020, how many more vaccines will be discovered, studied, and created in the next five to ten years?
What if because of 2020, we uncovered a cure for cancer due to the discoveries involved in vaccination research that pushed scientists to more intensely study the use of immunotherapy in treating cancers worldwide? The use of mRNA now in vaccines like some of those used to treat COVID-19 is a huge breakthrough for vaccines. Hopefully the next five to ten years will include many more life-altering breakthroughs.
Perhaps because of 2020 there will be implementation of new and improved policies among pharmaceutical companies, researchers, and countries worldwide to work symbiotically to create more scientific advances. Not only that, but hopefully from the experiences of 2020, there will be improvements in time and efficiency to bring new discoveries more quickly to those patients who need them. 2020 changed the rules for scientific breakthroughs, and hopefully, as a result, even more will make it to market in similar breakneck speed.
Life and health advances seem to be a by-product of 2020, and hopefully in time we will be able to conclude there have been positive changes to our workforce and economy as well. Certainly in 2020 there was a necessity to think “outside the box” regarding how to get work accomplished while at the same time being socially distant or quarantining. Our livelihoods may look vastly different in five or ten years. Because of 2020 and the unique opportunities for many to work remotely, people are finding creative ways to perform their jobs from any number of destinations. These “digital nomads” are increasing in numbers and finding great satisfaction in their ability to perform their duties and see the world at the same time. Thanks to the perspective that 2020 gave people, there are new options out there!
2020 might be considered a pivotal year in healthcare in the future. Telehealth or telemedicine was required to maintain the healthcare process, while at the same time keep those who were sick at home. Will there be better advances in electronic medical records, digital imaging, and medical care for those unable to get to a physician’s office in the future? Hopefully innovative medical technology will expand and improve our access to medical care in the future. Certainly those currently in medical school have new perspectives about providing healthcare in challenging global pandemic situations. In five or ten years these students will be our healthcare providers.
COVID-19 created crushing situations impacting our mental health. Loved ones dying in the hospital could not be visited by family and friends in their darkest hours due to fears of viral spread. Sadly, grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles died alone. Social distancing meant that weddings, funerals, and parties were canceled as a precaution so as not to be a “super spreader” event. The elderly, isolated in their homes or in assisted living facilities had to endure the pandemic alone or run the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and possible death. Again, the stress and pressure of the situation moved many of us to utilize available video platforms and other creative means to connect and communicate with our loved ones. Cards, letters, and online ordering also helped fill some of the void that the lack of in-person communication during the pandemic created.
2020 has been a transformative year in history, joining ranks with prominent American history years like 1776, 1863, 1945, 1968, and 2001 (thanks, 43!). None of these years were easy, and yet great progress came as a result of these challenging times. Our perspective of this past year may change with time, but it is important to find the “silver linings” and reevaluate what is most important to each of us. By reprioritizing our time and attention to those important matters, we will continue to reshape our future. Our perspective is our choice and it is up to each of us to make the future better.