In times of intense duress, values will see us through, writes infectious diseases physician Dr Michael Watson.


Outstanding supportive care is what we can and must deliver. This will not only save lives. It will save our community.

If you had to choose just one core value to see you through the SARS CoV2 pandemic, it has to be Respect (empathy + compassion i.e. understanding and kindness).

It is only when our whole community truly understands and lives the core value of Respect that we will see calm, sensible and measured responses to the SARS CoV2 epidemic.

Infectious diseases physician Dr Michael Watson.

Infectious diseases physician Dr Michael Watson.

The prevention strategies that we recommend and implement must pass the Respect test (understanding and kindness) and if they don’t, then those strategies themselves will pose a far greater risk to our society than the SARS CoV2 virus ever could.

Our community has come to understand the importance of physical distancing (“social distancing”) to help prevent the spread of this infection, but it’s essential that we don’t become more “distant” socially and that we respond with strong social cohesion.

Social cohesion must underpin all of our activities and relationships in our community. There is no substitute for hearing a loved one’s voice and seeing a smiling face, so regularly pick up the phone and video call family and friends.

When everyone lives the core value of Respect, we will not only be safe but we will also feel safe.

As doctors, we will bear an enormous responsibility in the coming months not just for our patients, but also for our families and for the entire community. While there is no conclusively proven cure or vaccine to offer patients yet, we should not fool ourselves into believing that we have nothing to offer.

Outstanding supportive care is what we can and must deliver. This will not only save lives. It will save our community.

If we always use the Respect test (empathy + compassion) and apply this to every policy, procedure and treatment we implement, we will have made an outstanding contribution to our society during this crisis.

We are no strangers to caring for people with incurable diseases. We know how to care for patients and their loved ones with deep Respect (understanding and kindness). We must ensure that we focus on Respect when managing patients with the SARS CoV2 virus.

We know that at the heart of our endeavours the focus must be on delivering patient and family focused health care. Respect is demonstrating deep empathy and compassion for patients and their families by always trying to fully understand their needs, and to do our best to meet those needs.

It will be crucial to ensure our health care system allows families to stay connected through a respectful and safe approach to visiting, and through innovation. Video conferencing technology is possible for every patient so family members can remain fully connected with their loved ones in their time of need. We must ensure that we provide this for all of our patients.

Now more than ever it is vital that families understand the wishes of their loved ones, and that those wishes are made known to health carers through Advance Health Directives and Enduring Power of Guardianship roles. These forms and processes are readily available through the Office of the Public Advocate https://www.publicadvocate.wa.gov.au/. We must encourage all of our patients and their families to complete these processes as soon as possible.

Finally, it is OK for us all to feel a little fearful at the moment. There is indeed good reason to.  However, it is not OK to give in to fear. When we give in to fear it robs us of our most important human value, Respect. We then stop being empathetic and compassionate to our fellow human beings.

Doctors are key community leaders during this pandemic and we must show courageous and respectful leadership.

It is essential that we all review and question policies and procedures that seem to fail the Respect test, (no matter who has mandated them). There is usually a more respectful option, it just needs some thought and innovation!

There is a safe way forward for everyone in the era of SARS CoV2. It is to deeply Respect our fellow human beings, at all times, and in all ways.

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