Read CHIBE’s Q&A with Eugenia C. South, MD, MS, Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
How would you describe your work environment right now as an emergency medicine physician during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Emergency medicine physicians were trained for a time such a COVID-19. Everyday, we work in a sort of organized chaos. We take care of critically ill patients, often with little background or knowledge about their history. We make quick, life-saving decisions. And everyday we see the downstream effects of structural barriers to health. I was incredibly proud to see our department lead on many levels to manage the COVID-19 response for Penn. On a personal level, one of the most challenging aspects of the initial days of the pandemic was uncertainty around availability of proper PPE. This was an issue across the country and remains an issue. I worried — will I catch COVID-19? Will I bring it home to my family? Will I die? Thankfully, this is no longer an issue at Penn, but I will never forget the feeling of wondering if I was safe at work.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Harriett’s Bookshop?
At the start of the pandemic, when businesses were forced to close their doors, I was very concerned for small businesses, especially those that are minority owned. Would they survive? I decided to support Harriett’s Bookshop — a local bookstore recently opened by an amazing Black woman Jeannine Cook — with book giveaways on Twitter. Then, she came to me with the idea for Essentials for Essentials: a way to provide front-line health care workers with books, which are the ultimate getaway in a time of stress. Fifty health care workers in the PMC and HUP emergency departments choose a book they wanted, she put it online, and within 9 hours, kindhearted strangers had bought the books. Win-win-win. She expanded to other department and hospitals.
What’s on your mind right now as a Black emergency medicine physician in Philadelphia, and what kind of real change do you hope comes of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations?
So much. Before George Floyd was killed and before the nation erupted in protests to end police brutality and in support of Black lives, many White people thought racism was a relic of the past, or just the rare actions of a few bad people. The truth is that racism is an insidious, pervasive, and constant feature of how our society is organized, and that includes at Penn Medicine. It affects me and my Black and Brown colleagues. It affects trainees. It affects our Black patients. So I am asking all of us right now: Are we ready to do the hard work, look inward, and truly become an antiracist organization? Or are we going to settle for symbolic gestures devoid of action? I am hopeful for the former, which will take resources, commitment, and a willingness to sit in our discomfort in acknowledging the constant presence of racism in our lives.