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PPE on the Frontlines: A Physician’s Experience

On March 17, 2020, Dr. Ramanathan made a post on Twitter illustrating her own experience as a clinician on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her post detailing the critical shortage of personal protective equipment for clinicians garnered national attention, leading to her being featured in publications like the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, as well as television outlets including CNN and NBC.

Dr. Ramanathan COVID-19 PPE

It all started with a call to action on Twitter by Dr. Esther Choo, a well-known emergency physician with a large following on social media.

Issuing a call to frontline healthcare workers, Dr. Choo requested that clinicians “share a pic of the PPE you’re in that you need to stay safe” and tag congressional representatives using the hashtag #GetMePPE. She hoped that clinicians could use the power and outreach of social media to raise awareness about the critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses and hospital staff across the country.

I happened to be working that day as a pediatrician in our emergency department when I saw Dr. Choo’s tweet. It connected with me because I had just been speaking with other doctors, nurses, residents and physician assistants about the nationwide PPE shortage and how it was affecting us personally in our department. Though we were following contact and droplet precautions, as well as donning and doffing protocol for our PPE, supply issues meant we were reusing the same surgical masks throughout the day.

Understandably, this led to some concern among many of the healthcare workers about our safety. There was real fear in our community about exposure to COVID-19, as we were unsure of how many patients were asymptomatic. Some clinicians were not wearing any PPE for asymptomatic patients, while others were wearing protection to varying degrees for all patients.

When I saw the call to action, I joined in with a tweet of my own, not at all realizing that it would garner some attention. As it turns out, it garnered more than “some” attention. I realized my story resonated deeply with people. Over the next few days, I was contacted by local and national news outlets – my one simple tweet was featured in the New York Times, and I was contacted by outlets including CNN and NBC to speak on the critical need for PPE supplies among clinicians on the frontline of this pandemic.

As healthcare workers, it is vitally important that we have the equipment and adequate protection that we need to stay safe. It is only if we are healthy that we can protect the health of our patients, our families, our communities, our nation, and indeed the world at large.

From the perspective of the healthcare community, we have been immensely heartened by the outpouring of concern and love from the public. Donations of boxes of PPE have been coming into offices and hospitals across the country. Equally important have been the messages of solidarity, offers of help, and voices advocating for the resources and support we desperately need. This proves that in times of crisis, people do rise to the occasion, unite, and support one another.

As healthcare providers continue to work diligently through these extremely challenging times, we hope that we will be able to do so without putting ourselves at undue risk. Tremendous public support, as well as the invaluable support of our healthcare system will help relieve that burden.