This week in Meet the Nerdy Girls, we’re delighted to introduce our readers to Dr. Sarah Coles, MD. Dr. Coles is a board-certified family physician practicing in both hospital and outpatient settings in Phoenix, Arizona.
She sees patients in every stage of life, for any concern. She came to Dear Pandemic’s team as a 1-month guest through a connection with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), but we liked her so much that we decided to keep her. 🙂
She shares that, “As a family physician and medical educator during the Covid-19 pandemic, my work has changed dramatically in every single respect. It is hard to describe in just a few words or paragraphs!
I had to quickly learn to implement and use telehealth in my practice, including both phone and video visits. I have been incredibly pleased to witness how telemedicine has helped to increase access to care.
We have had to change our workflows for patient and clinician safety and use personal protective equipment with every clinical encounter. I have learned how to connect to patients through these physical barriers.
I have witnessed patients struggle with increased mental health problems, housing insecurity, financial problems, food insecurity, and lack of connection and supports. My clinic has built interprofessional programs to provide resources to patients and improve mental health care in response to the pandemic, and I spend much of my clinical time coordinating around those supports.
In the hospital, we have seen our patient load go up and down depending on community prevalence [of COVID-19]. Many more patients are coming to the hospital with COVID, of course, but also with high acuity illness due to delays in care or healthcare avoidance due to fears of COVID. This is the first time in my career we have had to make decisions that balance the benefits to patients with the risks to our clinical care team. It is heartbreaking.
Personally, my work outside of direct clinical care and teaching has expanded to include significantly more advocacy, science communication, and combating misinformation. Of course, joining DP is central to that! I have also become the chair of the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science and have taken on additional roles in my state medical society chapters, working on Covid19, pursuing health equity, and focusing on “health in all policies.”
Here’s what Dr. Coles recently told us about her work, her life, and the pandemic.
What experiences led you to a career in medicine? 👩⚕️
“I had always been interested in medicine but was not certain that I would have a career in it. In undergrad, I worked towards 2 degrees: a bachelor of music in saxophone performance 🎷 and a bachelor of science in molecular and cellular biology. 🦠 I was considering a career as a music teacher.
This all changed when my mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. She was taken to the emergency room after a minor car accident due to neurologic issues. While there, an emergency department physician told us very bluntly that she had metastatic cancer in her brain. We were heartbroken, of course. 💔 I realized quickly how poorly managed that disclosure was, and how I wanted to be a physician who is there to help people through their most difficult times.
Though my mother died from her illness, we were fortunate to have a team of exceptional physicians who cared for her and our family. They were an inspiration to me. I found myself in family medicine because I wanted to share in people’s stories and be there for not only my patients, but their families and communities. Family medicine is about continuous, comprehensive care for individuals as a whole and unique person.”
❇️ Why did you agree to be part of the Dear Pandemic team?
“I was introduced to Dear Pandemic through a town hall with the AAFP. I was impressed with the incredible women scientists and clinicians who were doing the hard and thankless work of science communication to the public. I was honored to be asked to join and I didn’t hesitate for a minute to say yes! Health literacy, education, evidence-based medicine, and engaging our community to improve health has always been a passion of mine.”
❇️ What has been the most frustrating thing about the pandemic, from your point of view?
“I am most frustrated by the failure of clear, consistent messaging and policies from our governments and policymakers. The reliance on individuals to make “good decisions” is unrealistic and does not consider that many people are making choices based on financial, physical, and emotional needs that are not being adequately addressed in our national or statewide pandemic responses. This creates an “us vs them” mentality, that is pitting communities against scientists, healthcare workers, and public health.”
❇️ What are you most proud of?
“Becoming a family physician! Hands down.”
❇️ What you miss most from before the pandemic:
“My flippant (but honest) answer is I miss refills on drinks. 🥤 Sitting in a restaurant and getting refills on your drink is a luxury I did not realize how much I would miss. Of course, I mostly miss spending time with my friends and family. As a healthcare worker who sees patients in person, I’m not a good choice for anyone’s “bubble” and I predominantly see family and friends via zoom and facetime. I miss sharing a meal, game or movie nights, and just being together.” [Now that Dr. Coles is vaccinated, we hope this changes for her soon!]
❇️ What you don’t miss at all:
“Shopping in stores, whether it is grocery or clothes or whatever. I hate shopping and love curbside or delivery for most things. And of course, real grown-up dress pants.I love that I get to just wear scrubs every day now. ;)”
❇️ If you had a do-over on the last 10 months, what would you do differently? ⏪
“I would have started early preparing my patients (and myself) for the fact that this would be a long battle, not a short skirmish.”
❇️ Superpower 🦸♀️:
“Napping. I am so good at napping. Anytime, anywhere.” 😴😴😴
❇️ Who is your hero?
“This may sound cheesy, but my hero is my mother. She embodied selfless giving to her community, compassion, and humanism. She inspired me to work hard for others and to cherish my family and friends.”
❇️ How do you manage stress?
“While I would love to say it is exercise or reflection or meditation, it is most definitely watching television and movies. 📺 I love TV. I have been watching old favorites, new shows, reality baking competitions. I’m not picky.”
❇️ Fun fact: In spite of her love for reality cooking TV shows, she claims she’s tragically bad at cooking.
Dr. Coles is married with two cats. In addition to her clinical practice, she helps produce (and sometimes hosts) the podcast American Family Physician. Her other roles include serving as the Chair on the AAFP Commission on Health of the Public and Science, on the board and executive committee of the Arizona Medical Association, and as an ex-officio board member of the Arizona Academy of Family Physicians. She sits on the ACIP Influenza workgroup and the Arizona Drug Overdose Fatality Review Task Force.
After completing her Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Science at the University of Arizona, Dr. Coles earned her MD at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and completed her family medicine residency at Banner Good Samaritan Family Medicine Residency. She is faculty at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix Family Medicine Residency at Banner University Medical Center – Phoenix. She teaches medical students and residents in a variety of settings. She can be found on Twitter at @sarahmwc.