Be Prepared

John D.B. Featherstone

Dean John D.B. Featherstone

I spent my boyhood (and part of my early adulthood) involved with the Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts. Their motto, as everyone knows, is “Be Prepared.” In light of events in recent weeks and months, there are many reminders of the value of being prepared, in our personal lives and in our lives as health care providers.

Preparedness is a theme I often raise at commencement. As people in the health care profession, we obviously are called upon to help others — we should always be prepared to support and offer our skills to the aid of others. Part of our school philosophy is to be of service.

The North Bay fires have given us ample opportunity to be of service — and ample reminder of the value of preparedness. Many from UCSF have pitched in to help in the aftermath of the fires — some on the front lines; others through their donations. And many of us know someone who was directly affected. I myself have three close friends and colleagues whose lives have been changed by the fires. In a disaster like this, preparedness may not be a matter of saving property or mementos. For those in the fires, many didn’t have any time to pick up anything. Some didn’t even have time to leave their homes.

We in Northern California are not alone in coping with disaster. Over the last month, I’ve run across people who have weathered flooding in Houston, fires in Portugal, storm damage in Puerto Rico. I recently spoke with the dean of the dental school in Puerto Rico, who recounted how they are struggling to get their school started again, weeks after Hurricane Maria.

When so many things happen within such a short period of time, it drives home how calamities affect the people we know, people we interact with — and how they could affect any of us, at any time. Being prepared for the unexpected is a life lesson for us all.

As educators, we strive to prepare our learners as well as we possibly can, to do all they are trained to do — and more. I hope our students will take advantage of the many other opportunities available to them, to be even better prepared. When challenges arise — be they on the job or out in the world — they will be ready to step forward and help.

And there always are challenges that confront us. We are well aware of the risks we face living in this or that part of the world. Sadly, we are learning to live with the specter of terrorism. Another challenge, which may not affect us personally but should concern us, especially as health care providers: the opioid crisis. Nearly 150 people die each day in the United States as a result of this scourge. In comparison: That’s nearly three times as many people as were killed in the Las Vegas shooting attack — and it’s happening every day.

These all remind us of the uncertainty of life. No one expects to be hit by disaster, directly or indirectly. Be prepared: Pack an emergency kit for your physical survival (have earthquake emergency supplies in your home; carry survival gear and first aid in your car if you travel in the mountains or wilderness); know the resources available for your mental health (UCSF has many — do seek them out if you need to); be ready to assist others when called upon. I have used my emergency supplies in my home, my backpack, or my car on numerous occasions over the years. I am privileged to have been able to help others in need, because I learned early to be prepared.

You never know how crucial that preparedness may be.

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