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A Critical Time to be in Public Service: A Perspective from a Pair of Experienced Doctors Caring for COVID-19 Patients

Author: Timothy G. Buchman, MD, and Steven Q. Simpson, MD, BARDA/DRIVe
Published Date: 5/20/2020 11:44:00 AM
Category: Medical Countermeasures; Public Health Preparedness; Hospital Preparedness;

As critical care physicians, we can think of no more important time to be in public service than now. Across the country, thousands of healthcare professionals and scientists - not only from the private sector but also in the public sector - are fighting to save lives amid the worst pandemic the world has seen in the last 100 years. We are honored to count ourselves among both groups.

As physicians we are treating COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Units; as professors, we are teaching the next generation of critical care physicians, and while both roles are rewarding, we are just as inspired to be serving the entire nation right now as part of the Solving Sepsis team in BARDA’s Division of Research, Innovation and Ventures (DRIVe). From our unique vantage point, we see firsthand the contribution public service makes to healthcare providers’ day-to-day efforts to save lives.

Experts in government agencies provide timely guidance, like the NIH guidelines for diagnosing and treating patients with COVID-19; they facilitate the sharing of experience across the healthcare community through teleconferences, webinars, and assistance centers like ASPR TRACIE. They offer a systemic ‘bird’s eye’ view of the challenges, the promising practices, and the latest scientific data healthcare professionals need as we carefully balance limited resources to support the best possible patient outcomes for our COVID-19 patients.

Relying on the time-tested tools of partnership, science and education, government experts from our Solving Sepsis team, along with others from BARDA and across HHS, are driving the development of much-needed medical products for this pandemic. Already BARDA is supporting development of 31 medical countermeasures - diagnostic tests, devices, treatments, and vaccines. As advisors to the Solving Sepsis program, we are supporting our Rapidly Deployable Capabilities team on pilot studies of new technologies and tools that may aid in diagnosing or triaging COVID-19 patients. Some of these products, begun under the Solving Sepsis program, are now part of BARDA’s rapidly expanding COVID-19 medical countermeasure development portfolio.

We also are able to bring our expertise to the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) program. This new, national, public-private partnership will identify the most promising candidate interventions, test them quickly at national scale, and work to ensure that they are available to all who need them, when and where they are needed.

Everyone working on these initiatives is driven by a profound sense of urgency, yet what we’re doing in public service resonates with the two of us for another reason: sepsis. Thus far, data worldwide indicate that up to a quarter of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 require ICU admission in order to treat the life threatening organ dysfunctions that define sepsis,, and those who die do so largely due to the effects of that sepsis. That means to save lives, scientists need information and medical countermeasures not only for COVID-19 per se, but for sepsis as well. We know our country needs sound science to help solve the mysteries of why, for so many people, this coronavirus infection leads to sepsis and how to overcome it. Ideally, the answers lead to discoveries about solving sepsis no matter its cause.

We hope that as other healthcare professionals look at the battle against COVID-19, they will consider public service as a way to make a difference and contribute to the scientific discoveries that help save lives. To find out about positions that are currently open, visit


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