Coping with COVID-19 for the Medical Affairs Professional

With many companies recommending or mandating telecommuting while schools, government facilities and commercial establishments shut down, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has and will continue to impact our professional and personal lives. For pharmaceutical and biotechnology professionals, HCPs are becoming increasingly inaccessible through social distancing measures. With data points suggesting a substantially higher mortality rate among cancer, and other elderly or immunocompromised patients, clinics are taking understandable steps to protect their patients and healthcare staff. This is forcing each of us to adapt in our professional and personal sphere and, looking ahead, the impact is likely to grow as more people; including colleagues and loved ones, become infected.

We are all adapting to a different way of working, most notably by utilizing virtual options to meet internally and engage with external HCPs/KOLs. The telephone, Facetime, Zoom, Skype and Bluejeans are all virtual options for face-to face engagements that can be implemented immediately. Many organizations are working with their IT departments and external vendors to facilitate enhanced digital engagement as a means to maintain business continuity.

As we all hunker down in our homes with immediately family, everyone’s personal situation will vary; yet we all need to continue to function as Mom’s, Dad’s, adult children, employees, and leaders. With that, I decided to write up a 4 tips on coping with COVID for the medical affairs professional.

1.      Focus: As you move to remote work, it’s critical that your environment supports productive work. I suggest setting up your workspace in a way that minimizes distractions and sets you up for success. You owe it to yourself to stay focused on your goals and you owe it to your team-members to focus during virtual meetings. Working in an enclosed space with a clear working space is more conducive to this focus than setting up shop at the kitchen table with a higher propensity for “rug rat” interruptions. Scanning your calendar in advance and establishing “top 3” daily and weekly goals can help you stay focused.

  2.      Stay Healthy: You need to maintain your energy as a leader and role model; therefore, I’m suggesting a few health recommendations that I practice.

a.      Diet: Hippocrates is credited with the quote 2400+ years ago, “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food,” and this rings true today in the realm of health, energy, and prevention. Whether you are paleo, vegan, pescatarian, or South Beach; consider maximizing antioxidants, phytochemicals, protein, and probiotics in your diet as you hunker down and load up on non-perishable foods. My personal favorite food sources that have a medium to long shelf life:

i.     Probiotics: Kefir, Greek yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut

ii.     Frozen cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower rice), leafy greens, avocados, garlic and berries.

iii.     Canned salmon, sardines, tuna, and protein-rich grains

b.      Exercise: I love the CrossFit Gym in my town yet, I had to acknowledge there’s lots of sweat, unintentional spit (yes, gross) and violations of social distancing principles. Those with home gyms or willingness to improvise would be wise to maintain your exercise routine. Running outdoors, biking, jumprope, burpees, pull-ups on the children’s playset, air squats and push-ups are all great exercises that can be done at home with minimal equipment. Google “hotel workouts” for more tips and ping me if you’d like specific routines that I do in the driveway and backyard. If you do choose to go to the gym or if not already shut down, be extra mindful of sanitation and spray down all equipment before and after use.

     c.      Alcohol, water, sleep, and discipline: When school closure was announced on Thursday evening, the kids cheered, as if this were an upcoming school vacation. I have to admit, knowing that I would be working from home, I was tempted to have that second glass of wine and stay up a bit later. When my alarm went off Friday morning at 4:30 AM to go to the gym, I was tempted to press snooze. Well, I didn’t resist the snooze button but I resisted the wine. It dawned on me that the extended school closure and working from home will require extra discipline to maintain health and routine. I’m making a personal commitment to adhere to pre-written health and wellness goals for 2020. Getting enough sleep, hydrating, keeping alcohol consumption moderate and energy levels high will be necessary to fulfill my family, personal, business, and, charitable work obligations in my community.

3.      Parents and In-Laws: Do your folks or in-laws live nearby? Do their lives revolve around seeing the grandchildren? Is Sunday dinner or their grandchildren’s sporting events the highlight of their week? Data suggests that the elderly are most vulnerable from COVID-19. As a consequence, they should be absolutely be in social isolation in my opinion. For many, that will be downright depressing, and needs to be balanced with the near-term infectious risk. Furthermore, with children home from school, you may be tempted to tap into their offer to watch the children, increasing the risk that asymptomatic infected children will infect at-risk elderly. Please proceed with extreme caution and be mindful of the risks. Everyone’s situation will vary but my advice is to keep the children away from grandparents. Visit your folks with appropriate social distance, call them, FaceTime them, tell them you love them. Have your children do the same. I invite any comments from ID experts on advice on how to manage the grandchildren/grandparent relationship and further guidance on this.

4.      Kids: All town schools and after school programs were shut down here in Medfield, Massachusetts as of Friday March 13 to at least March 20. During several leadership calls pertaining to COVID-19 on Friday morning, I had multiple interruptions. “Dad, can I use my IPAD”, “Can I watch Netflix”, “did you make Bacon?”, which made me pretty irritable. First and foremost, I made bacon. Second, I realized how badly I mismanaged the kid’s expectations about what this school cancellation means and I that needed to do better when Monday comes around. Our message to our children is this, “this is not a vacation, nor is it trivial; Mom and Dad need to fulfill our work obligations, and you need to fulfill your school obligations.” We’ve set up a schedule and work spaces for the children to work as their schools outline the digital resources and curriculum at their disposal to continue learning. When possible, I plan to hang out with my kids at “recess” (lunchtime), and play hoops, soccer, or chess to break up the day. I welcome any advice or web resources from those with experience in home-schooling and am happy to share information as our plan evolves.

Whether you are an individual contributor or head of Medical Affairs, you can be a leader and role model during these trying times. Your children, parents, colleagues, and external HCPs with whom you interact are all going to be impacted by COVID-19. The new work-life balance, at least temporarily, means staying focused, being digitally-savvy, staying healthy, social distancing, and being extra mindful of family. Being solutions oriented and adaptive as you and your team execute medical plans that support research, education, insights gathering and safe use of medicines is still the goal.

We all have professional, family, and societal obligations. I wish everyone well and hope you can be your best self during the COVID-19 outbreak; remember that this too shall pass.

Leave a Comment