The Osler Medical Symposium (OMS) had to cancel one of their events this week in light of concerns over the coronavirus. Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, a celebrity physician also known as Dr. Mike, was invited to come speak on March 10 about the influence of social media on modern medicine.
Dr. Mike’s team contacted OMS on Friday evening with concerns regarding the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic. The group announced that the event would be cancelled prior to the University cancelling all other events. One of the co-directors of OMS, junior Shefali Vijay, explained why OMS and Dr. Mike’s team decided that it would be safest to cancel this highly anticipated event.
“The reasoning behind it on his team’s part was that they didn’t want him to be seen promoting an on-campus, large gathering of students. As a doctor, they thought that it would be irresponsible for him to promote that type of gathering,” she said in an interview with The News-Letter.
Following the phone call, the directors of OMS were frustrated by difficulties in their efforts to get support from University administration.
“We couldn’t, within weekend-only hours, find out who on administration to talk to or even schedule a meeting with them,” Vijay said.
She noted, however, that OMS agreed with Dr. Mike’s team about the negative effect holding the event might have on public perception.
“On our part, we did not want to be seen as a medically oriented symposium condoning large gatherings of students,” Vijay said.
Members of the campus community expressed frustration and disappointment over the postponement of the event. Melanie Alfonzo, a sophomore studying Biophysics and Chemistry, was upset to miss out on an opportunity to hear Dr. Mike speak.
“I was really sad because this was a really stressful week with all of my exams, and... this was my one chance to take a break,” she said. “I really hope they are able to reschedule the event, because Dr. Mike is a good figure in the medical field to get people interested in learning more about medicine, as a celebrity and as an educated medical professional.”
In order for the group to reschedule their event, the University would need to lift the prohibition on events. Vijay explained that the group is working to maintain its relationships with all of their speakers in order to reschedule postponed events and schedule events for the future, once the risk of coronavirus is determined to be sufficiently low.
“Dr. Mike’s team said that as soon as it dies down, we can call them again and set another date, so it’ll still be happening.”
Sophomore Savannah Ireland expressed her appreciation that OMS and Dr. Mike were prioritizing public health in light of the pandemic.
“Although thus far [coronavirus] has not been proven to be detrimental to healthy, college aged students, we could still easily spread the virus to those that may have extreme consequences from contracting the virus or may not survive it at all,” Ireland said in an interview with The News-Letter. “It’s our responsibility, especially as a school with such a high priority for public health, to take into consideration the safety of our students and community.”
OMS maintains a similar viewpoint and is prioritizing the health of students. They noted their understanding of student frustrations, but emphasized their commitment to promoting healthy practices as a medically oriented organization.
“The other side to it is that this whole situation is so over-blown.... But it’s also hard to ignore all of that because you can’t get it wrong,” Vijay said. “Say as OMS we hosted an event and one person got coronavirus based on something that happened there. Then we’re done. There is nothing that we can do to defend ourselves.”
Vijay and all of OMS were very disappointed to have to postpone an event as exciting as the talk by Dr. Mike. According to Vijay, the organization is still young and looked forward to this event as Dr. Mike would their most famous speaker yet.
OMS hopes that they will be able to continue to schedule exciting events for the student body later this semester. They also cancelled their March 12 event with Dr. Amanda Brown per current University policy.