Voices From the Front Lines: Jennifer Stephens, DO, LVPG Internal Medicine
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care professionals who see the impact of COVID-19 on patients and colleagues, and who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of the virus in the community.
Internal medicine physician Jennifer Stephens, DO, has been with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for 17 years, rising to Chief Medical Officer, Quality, Patient Safety and Value Based Care, for Lehigh Valley Physician Group (LVPG). She also sees patients at LVPG Internal Medicine–Fogelsville. Stephens was drawn to medicine as a teenager, intrigued by her mother’s life as an emergency room nurse.
How has your daily work life evolved since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis (comparing early days to now)?
When the pandemic began, we needed to build virtual models to care for patients, create our approach to assess and test centers, and organize teams around the new work that needed to be done in caring for our community. We were ‘building the plane as we were flying it’ so to say. At this point, we have the plane built, and we are charting our course to navigate the changing environment.
The other change is that our administrative teams are mostly remote now. The change from in-person management and collaboration to a remote model has caused most of our team to reconfigure how work is done. It changes how you lead, communicate, develop solutions and keep your teams aligned. Connectivity and relationships are so important; keeping them strong through remote working is key.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
This experience has been transformative in many ways for me, both professionally and personally. Professionally, our first eight weeks of pandemic efforts were unlike anything I have ever experienced (or suspect may experience again). The level of intensity, innovation, pace, teamwork and alignment toward a common goal was inspiring. Our motivation to support the community and protect our patients, family, friends and colleagues was so strong; it drove performance beyond anything imaginable. Seeing what was possible, and how it was achieved, changed my perspective on how an organization as big as LVHN can pivot rapidly when needed. I have complete confidence that no matter what is required of us in the future, we will meet the challenge.
Personally, this year has taught me resilience and reaffirmed the truly important things in my life. Relationships and time with family and friends can be the best medicine, even when virtual.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
Personally, my family inspires me to be the best version of myself. I work hard to be the best role model for my children and partner to my husband. I also find continuous inspiration in my patients and colleagues. The stories of sacrifice, dedication and outreach I hear are amazing. From donations across the community and health network, to individuals shopping and helping those that are in need and extra effort to ensure people know they are not alone – I see inspiring acts every day.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
This has taught me how true the quote by Margaret Mead was when she said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ Our team members moved mountains through this pandemic and realized how much they could accomplish together. That has been priceless.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for people of our community?
No matter what happens, people can rest assured that we are here to support them in all their health care needs. Our clinicians and care teams are dedicated to their patients and communities, and will continue to provide care in a manner that is of the highest effort and quality.
Are there any other thoughts you would like to share about this experience or about the resilience of patients?
The pandemic has pushed health care organizations (ours included) to transform into the virtual space with intent and passion. The first time I was able to do a video visit with a patient was a great experience I will never forget. Virtual care lets us connect with patients anytime, anywhere. As those new health care offerings continue to grow and expand, we are excited to partner with patients to ensure convenience and access into all our services.
Read more Voices From the Frontlines at LVHN.org/COVIDStrong.