One of my favorite things on the calendar as editor of ENTtoday is our annual editorial board meeting. Usually held over lunch during COSM, we get together and brainstorm ideas. The board is made up of people from all over the country; from academic, employed situations, and independent practices; at different stages of their career; and representing every subspecialty. Topics are usually all over the place, and I learn as much in that hour as I do in a year of attending CME events. This year, our board meeting was virtual, and it was a sobering view of where we are one year into the pandemic.
Much is being written in the lay press about the dangers of a “lost generation.” The COVID-19 pandemic may have long-lasting societal effects on today’s youth. The loss of in-person school and socialization has threatened critical educational milestones and high school and college traditions. Taking a lesson from the past, the psycho-social effects from World War I coupled with the 1918-1920 influenza epidemic left many in doubt over their future direction in life. As a society, it’s critical to pay attention to that dynamic and be aggressive in altering its course.
But what about otolaryngology? Is our specialty in danger of being changed for the worse? Will there be a lost generation of residents, learners, and junior-to-mid-career attendings?
Our editorial board talked about this topic as we start to see the pandemic’s long-term effects on all aspects of our professional lives. Our conversations have changed from adequate PPE and staying safe to how to recover from the pandemic and its lasting impact on our field. It has changed the prevalence of common illnesses we treat, the economic stability we enjoyed, and the types of research we perform. Case numbers of bread-and-butter surgeries like tubes, tonsils, and FESS are all down. As a result, many otolaryngologists have faced salary cuts, and some have lost their jobs. Many of us are seeing much more medical otolaryngology and an increased number of anxiety- and stress- induced somatic complaints.
The downstream effects of decreased case numbers have hit our residents and fellows, and there are concerns over their confidence and competence as they graduate. The research being published these days is robust but often COVID-19 related. Discovery research has lagged as many universities have had to shut down basic science laboratories for months at a time and patient enrollment has significantly slowed or stopped. Our industry partners have temporarily halted their research into innovative new technologies or instruments. In-person conferences, long the economic engine of academic societies, have now gone virtual and the appetite for future travel is uncertain. What effects will this have on those in academic medicine looking for promotion and future leadership opportunities?
Over the next few months, we’ll begin a deeper dive into these questions. Using a term we’re all too familiar with, we’ll do a “root-cause analysis” to identify the systemic issues we need to work on. Our specialty and the people in it are too motivated to allow a lost generation, but it’s up to all of us to tackle these issues head on to recover what we’ve lost and make changes for future success.