A Conversation with Dhaval

What inspired you to write Burning Out on the Covid Front Lines, a memoir reflecting on your experience as a hospital leader and frontline patient caregiver in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dhaval Desai: “I have always had a passion for patient care—truly caring for the wellness of patients and their families beyond prescribing treatment—and for the humanistic side of healthcare. I consider those my primary strengths as a physician. During the pandemic, everything got thrown on my plate at once. I was struggling to serve my patients and support my colleagues, deal with being a new father, and avoid burnout myself. While not a writer by trade, but I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling. I wanted to share my experience and perspective to help other healthcare professionals and patients, while raising awareness of the importance of caring and compassion in the practice of medicine.”

Why do you think healthcare professionals sometimes lose touch with the fundamental role of caring in their work?

Dhaval Desai: “The vast majority of doctors and nurses go into healthcare to help people. But often, we have to be reminded of this. We’re so distracted and overwhelmed by crisis after crisis—staffing shortages, supply chain delays, fast-emerging variants of infectious diseases—on top of the mandate to prioritize metrics, contain costs, and do more with less that we forget the good we’re doing. Historically, physicians and nurses are trained to push through and not show any weakness, and that only aggravates matters.”

As you acknowledge, our nation’s healthcare system is in a state of disarray. Is there a solution?

Dhaval Desai: “Changing the healthcare system has to start at the individual level. When doctors and nurses take just five minutes out of their day to sit with patients or concerned family members, it makes a world of difference. That’s the type of conscious, active caring that experienced physicians and hospital leaders can coach. We need to encourage each healthcare professional to develop their EQ and their ability to listen. Becoming a compassionate healthcare provider is a talent in itself—and as valuable to professional success as diagnostic skills. Practicing medicine well is a life-long learning process. When individual caregivers treat people with caring and empathy at work, everyone benefits. And when that change happens at the micro level, it will gradually trickle up to the macro level and change the system.”

What is your message to anyone considering a career in medicine and to everyone concerned about the future of healthcare in America?

Dhaval Desai: “People with a passion for healing and caring should go into medicine, and the rewards will come if you do your job, consistently, led by that passion. How healthcare workers treat others—and themselves—at work will determine the future of our healthcare system. Everyone needs to be more aware of the toll of apathy, bureaucracy, and burnout. For the sake of our nation’s wellness, business, political, and hospital leaders need to partner with frontline healthcare workers. Patients deserve the best from their healthcare providers, and healthcare providers need the entire community’s support to be able to do their best.”