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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 

    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.

    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 

    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.

    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.

    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.

    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 

    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.

    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 

    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog:
    Click to Tweet


    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.

    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.


    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!

    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • November 08, 2021

    By Sarah Heins, Medical Student, COVID Recovery Program

    Over the past year the use of rehabilitative therapies has been an integral part in treating Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) symptoms. 

    These rehabilitative therapies are a cornerstone of MedStar Health’s COVID Recovery Program, with physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and speech and language pathology (SLP) playing an essential role. Our PTs, OTs, and SLPs work with each patient, virtually or in person, to help them overcome symptoms and achieve their treatment goals.  These three specialties work in tandem while also following their own unique methods to bring about successful recovery.

    The basics.

    All three of these specialties treat a vast spectrum of PASC symptoms including fatigue, cognitive symptoms, and post viral deconditioning.  Patients may also be referred at various points in their post-infection trajectories.

    The logistics.

    Treatment with PT, OT, and SLP in the program may involve working with their therapist 1-2 times per week for several weeks, depending on individual needs and symptom severity. Treatment plans are often individualized and can be tailored towards those who are working to regain basic functioning to those aiming to return to work or vigorous exercise. 


    What do each of these therapies look like?


    Physical therapy.

    In our program, physical therapists report treating a variety of symptoms. Kimberly Agan –a Physical therapist at MedStar Health-has been working with several PASC patients and reports the main symptoms she helps treat include:

    • Decreased cardiovascular capacity—involving deconditioning of the aerobic system, low O2 levels, and difficulty breathing
    • Vestibular issues—including dizziness and difficulty with balance
    • Muscle fatigue and weakness

    A typical PT appointment can include cardiovascular exercises to rebuild physical strength and endurance, breathing exercises to improve respiratory capabilities, as well as manual therapy to relax the muscles of inspiration. Other techniques include balance and eye exercises to improve vestibular senses. PT programs for PASC include many at-home exercises as well, including self-massage techniques or further breathing techniques that patients are able to perform themselves. All patients have access to an online exercise portal and are provided with instructions and tutorial videos.

    Our program’s PTs track and monitor progress to help direct therapy and ensure patients are meeting their goals. Completion of PT usually occurs when the patient has made substantial progress towards their physical goals and is able to continue a therapeutic program on their own. PTs in the program advise that being committed and consistent in doing at-home exercises is one of the biggest steps to take towards achieving the ultimate goal: a return to pre-COVID function.


    Over the past year, the use of rehabilitative therapies has been an integral part in treating long term COVID-19 symptoms. Learn how physical therapy and more can help via the #LiveWellHealthy blog:
    Click to Tweet

    Occupational therapy.

    In our COVID Recovery Program, OTs may help patients struggling with symptoms of fatigue, energy deficits, and challenges that can interfere with activities of daily living.  

    One of the most common techniques for management of fatigue is energy conservation planning, in which the OT helps patients structure their schedules and environment in ways that minimize fatigue. Developing cognitive fatigue management strategies is another central component. OTs help patients recognize physical signs that occur before they experience fatigue and then develop a plan for how to proceed after those signs occur. Adopting strategies such as scheduling pre-emptive rest periods at crucial times, building in cognitive breaks, or putting tasks in a strategic order can maximizes energy usage. Reduce distracting environmental stimuli, such as limiting ambient background noise and controlling strong lighting are also effective strategies. 

    Adjusting the home or work environment in order to use the body more efficiently are also ways OT’s help with energy conservation. Examples include sitting down when brushing your teeth, utilizing adaptive equipment such as a shower chair, or delegating tasks to friends or family members. 

    Similar to PT, the main goal of OT is to return patients to their original pre-COVID functioning levels. Karen Gragnani, occupational therapist at MedStar Health, recommends “keeping an open mind for treatment strategies, and to be willing to try new techniques along the way. It is also important to be kind and forgiving towards oneself, be willing to take breaks and not push progress too hard, and most importantly to be patient and trust the process.”


    Speech-language pathology.

    In our program, SLPs help to address cognitive symptoms, which can include:

    • Attention: difficulty focusing to read, quickly losing energy when focusing on a task
    • Word-finding: inability to choose the correct word to express oneself
    • Memory: forgetting things quickly, being overwhelmed by large amounts of information
    • Organization: difficulty managing schedules, medical referrals and medications, finances and bill payments, deadlines at work

    They also help with other COVID-related symptoms such as voice changes—hoarseness or weakness, as well as chronic cough.  

    SLP centers around education, in which the therapist works to teach people about how their brain works. Understanding how attention, memory, problem solving, and cognitive endurance function can help patients manage and overcome specific weaknesses. Similar to OT, SLPs also help patients develop compensatory strategies such as making to-do-lists or implementing an organizational system to manage daily tasks.

    SLPs also have patients practice and strengthen their cognitive abilities on their own. For example, reading a complex passage in a book or listening to a podcast, and then eventually adding in distractions and additional tasks to perform simultaneously--such as cooking.

    Unlike physical injuries, it is sometimes difficult to identify the limits cognitive fatigue causes in daily life, and hard to recognize its exact manifestations. Patients can often feel trapped and discouraged by living within the limits of their cognitive fatigue. SLP works to encourage patients that progress is possible, and the cognitive limits can certainly be overcome. Breanne Reynolds, a Speech-Language Pathologist with MedStar Health, reinforces this by encouraging her patients to “give themselves some grace,” and to remember that “recovery is complicated and does not follow a single straight path.” She tells them to “be open to adjusting your expectations and getting away from judging yourself.” 

    Similarities and differences.

    PTs, OTs, and SLPs assisting our program all share the same objective of partnering with each individual to personalize and maximize their recovery process. While the methods they employ to achieve it are unique to each therapeutic specialty, they all work in pursuit of the same goal: returning patients to their pre-COVID capabilities.

    Are you suffering from long-term COVID symptoms?

    Click below to register or learn more about our COVID Recovery Program.

    COVID Recovery Program

  • November 07, 2021

    By Stephen Peterson, MD, Psychiatry

    MedStar Health Research Institute is pleased to announce Nawar Shara,  PhD, Director for the Center of Biostatistics, Informatics and Data Science (CBIDS), Associate Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University, Director BERD-CTSA (Georgetown-Howard) and Co-Director of BI-CTSA (Georgetown-Howard) as the site primary investigator of the data science training core for the Coordinating Center for the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Research Diversity (AIM-AHEAD) program. This project is a new two-year, $15 million dollar award funded by the National Institute of Health.

    The AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center’s initial charge will be to build a consortium of partners and engage with stakeholders. The two-year planning, assessment and capacity building award will identify priority research aims in health equity, artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as the necessary training and infrastructure.

    The AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center (A-CC) will consist of 4 Cores:

    • Administration/Leadership Core - Lead, recruit, and coordinate the AIM-AHEAD Consortium
    • Data Science Training Core - Assess, develop, and implement data science training curriculum
    • Data and Research Core - Address research priorities and needs to form an inclusive basis for AI/ML
    • Infrastructure Core - Assess data, computing, and software infrastructure to facilitate AI/ML and health disparities research

    It’s expected that application-based learning opportunities with large scale data will be an important aspect of training and workforce development. The Data Science Training Core therefore will work closely with other team efforts to develop or leverage platforms to access AI/ML-ready data. The consortium also includes members from the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center in Fort Worth; Vanderbilt University Medical Center; the University of Houston; the University of Colorado-Anschutz Medical Center; the University of California, Los Angeles; Morehouse School of Medicine; Johns Hopkins University; Howard University; the National Alliance Against Disparities in Patient Health; Harvard Medical School and Oregon Community Health Information Network (OCHIN).

    Learn more here.

  • November 05, 2021

    By Kerry Strom, RD, LDN, Dietitian Educator at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center

    Approximately 10% of the general population may experience chronic pain caused by nerve damage. Most of the patients referred to our plastic surgery clinic for nerve pain are seeking relief from peripheral nerve damage, which can affect any nerves outside the central nervous system (the brain and spinal column). 

    Nearly 90% of patients with peripheral nerve damage can experience the following symptoms in their limbs, hands, or feet:

    • Tingling
    • Numbness
    • Burning pain
    • Hypersensitivity
    • Weakness

    Peripheral nerve damage can be caused by a range of factors outside a patient’s control—including treatments for other health conditions. Many patients struggle with nerve pain after recovering from:

    • Injury: This can include fractures or sprains. Often, we treat brachial plexus injuries, in which an arm is severely stretched or pulled in a vehicle accident, contact collision, or knife or gunshot wound.
    • Disease: Infections, nutritional imbalances, diabetes, and medications such as chemotherapy can temporarily or permanently damage nerves. 
    • Surgery: A nerve may be damaged or irritated during major—yet fine—surgeries such as a hand or foot fracture repair, joint replacement, or mastectomy.

    Some patients try medication or physical therapy with limited improvement before visiting me for other options. Many are worried they’ll have to have surgery to relieve the pain. Surgery should be a last resort—but when no better options exist, improvement can be significant. 


    Most patients benefit from less invasive therapies that can significantly reduce peripheral pain and improve quality of life. However, nerve surgery may be the best option if we can narrow down the source of pain to one specific nerve or small set of nerves.


    ‘Try it before you buy it’: How nerve blocks help determine treatment options.

    A damaged nerve is only one potential reason a patient might have chronic pain or other nerve symptoms. If the pain is in just one or two fingers, for example, or one part of your foot, it’s likely due to one damaged nerve. If it’s spread across a larger area, it could be due to several nerves or other tissues.


    The best diagnostic tool for peripheral nerve pain is a temporary, ultrasound-guided nerve block, which numbs the nerve we think is causing the pain. Using ultrasound imaging, we inject local anesthetic around a specific nerve that we believe may be the cause of a patient’s pain, which should numb any pain the damaged nerve is causing for four to six hours. 

    The pain relief you experience from a nerve block is similar to what you would experience after a nerve surgery. If you still feel the same amount of pain, that nerve is not the cause of the pain, and nerve surgery will not relieve your pain. However, if you feel temporary pain relief after the injection, we can attribute the pain to that nerve, and surgery might be an option.


    Chronic #NervePain may not be your first thought when you hear #PlasticSurgery. But if lasting peripheral nerve pain doesn’t improve with medication or physical therapy, 3 types of #ReconstructiveSurgery may reduce pain:
    Click to Tweet

    The three ‘Rs’ of peripheral nerve surgery: Release, repair, removal.

    A successful nerve surgery typically provides significant but not total relief. We consider more than 50% improvement to be successful. Depending on the type of nerve damage, we’ll perform one of three surgeries:

    • Releasing a compressed (or “pinched”) nerve: If your nerve pain starts a few weeks or months after a surgery, it’s likely because a nerve is being compressed by scar tissue that built up as your body healed. During a procedure called neurolysis, we release the nerve from this pressure by removing the excess scar tissue. You will need to perform specific movements and stretches on a regular basis to improve the nerve’s range of motion and prevent further scarring.
    • Repairing a damaged nerve: If your pain starts almost immediately after an operation, a nerve might have been severed or damaged. Our first step is to repair the nerve by sewing the severed ends back together. If the ends are too frayed to be reconnected, we may be able to perform a nerve transfer. That means we connect the damaged nerve to a nearby functioning one. You can think of a cut nerve as a frayed cord with exposed live wire that must be reconnected to restore the “circuit” between the nerve and brain. Once a nerve is repaired and functioning more normally, its fibers will grow back within six months to a year.
    • Removing a damaged nerve: If your nerve is too damaged to be repaired, we can remove it to prevent the nerve from sending pain signals to your brain. However, because peripheral nerves can grow back, the pain likely will return in less than a year. To reduce the severity of the pain, we will recommend ongoing therapies such as medications or exercises to help increase blood flow, strengthening the nerve tissue. Evidence consistently shows that physical activity can alleviate peripheral nerve pain.

    For each type of surgery, we use an operating microscope that can magnify the affected area up to 40 times, which helps us accurately perform such an intricate procedure using specialized microsurgical instruments. Many patients notice a dramatic improvement shortly after surgery, though the incision area may be sore for a few weeks.

    Seek nerve care early to improve long-term pain relief. 

    Research to better understand peripheral nerve pain is ongoing, and surgical techniques are continually studied and improved to decrease complications such as nerve damage. Nerve pain caused by an injury or operation is not preventable, but it is progressive; the longer you wait, the less effective treatment will be. See your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of nerve damage.

    If we can’t attribute the pain to a nerve, we’ll order more imaging for a closer look at the affected area or refer you to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon, to evaluate for structural causes of pain such as bone and joint issues. Unfortunately, chronic nerve pain rarely goes away completely. However, a combination of multidisciplinary treatments, such as physical therapy, regular exercise, medication, and pain management treatment can hopefully provide significant relief.

    I see patients at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Our team understands the many ways chronic nerve pain impacts quality of life and will work with you and our MedStar Health pain management experts to develop a creative, customized treatment plan that can help you more easily resume your favorite activities.



    Are you experiencing peripheral nerve pain?

    Our pain management specialists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

  • November 05, 2021

    By MedStar Team

    Women die of pregnancy-related causes at higher rates in D.C. (36 deaths per 100,000 live births) than any other state in the nation, according to 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In addition, African American women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women and D.C.’s African American infant mortality rate of 11.3 per 1,000 live births is the nation’s highest.  

    The MedStar Health’s D.C. Safe Babies and Safe Moms initiative, which launched November 1, 2020 through the generous support from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation, aims to improve the health, welfare, and lifelong outcomes of mothers and infants in Washington, D.C. through interdisciplinary, multigenerational care throughout the perinatal health trajectory.

    To date, the D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms initiative has served 11,916 individuals during pre-conception, pregnancy, delivery, postpartum and family care up to age 3, which accounts for about 2,300 visits per month. Since its inception, Safe Babes Safe Moms has also addressed critical perinatal health needs for the District’s most vulnerable families and maternal care deserts where critical maternal health services are limited in partnership with Community of Hope and Mamatoto Village.

    A few recent program milestones include:

    • In April 2021, the Safe Babies Safe Moms initiative received national designation as a ZERO TO THREE HealthySteps site and has delivered critical behavioral health and pediatric services under this program to 80 children ages birth to 3 years, with 20 children belonging to families at high risk, as defined by having a child with developmental delay, history of maternal depression, or child born to a teen parent.
    • In May 2021, MedStar Health partnered with Community of Hope to offer obstetric appointments that include sonography services made possible by D.C. Safe Babies Safe Moms. Three hand-held ultrasound machines are now in use, on-site at Community of Hope, dramatically increasing accessibility to sonography services for Wards 7 and 8.
    • Safe Babies Safe Moms has added perinatal care coordinators to clinics to provide patient outreach and enhanced communication around early prenatal care, which has resulted in a significant increase in adherence to appointment schedules and decrease the no-show rate by more than 30%
    • New offerings also include embedded continuous learning for care teams including implicit bias training and trauma informed practice training. These trainings, and other health equity initiatives, seek to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and reduce disparities.

    Learn more about the program here.

  • November 03, 2021

    By Heather Hartman-Hall, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

    If you've ever flown on a plane, you've heard a flight attendant instruct everyone to put their oxygen masks on first before helping others, in the event of an emergency. This safety spiel isn't to encourage a "save yourself" mentality. You can do more good for others if you're breathing oxygen in a depressurized cabin than if you are incapacitated because you failed to put your mask on. In other words, if you always assist others first, you will quickly lose your ability to take care of yourself and those around you.

    However, if you’re a healthcare worker, self-care alone may not be enough to combat burnout. As a doctor or nurse, you have the weighty responsibility of caring for people in their most vulnerable state, and it’s a job that requires attention 24/7. Working in a high-stakes environment like a hospital can take a toll on your body and mind, even if you’re practicing healthy habits to prioritize your wellness. To achieve wellness in the healthcare setting, we need to care for ourselves, care for each other, and care for our organization at large through resources and programs designed to meet the needs of our employees.

    You can't take care of others if you aren't cared for.

    The demands in healthcare have never been higher than during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, burnout among healthcare providers, nurses, and staff is at an all-time high, too. Unfortunately, chronically stressed people rarely perform their best, which means that if you aren't prioritizing your wellness, it's affecting those around you, including patients. Likewise, if you don’t have the social or organizational support necessary to combat stress, it will be more difficult to get through challenging times.


    You can’t take care of others if you aren’t cared for. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Hartman-Hall shares how prioritizing your physical and #MentalHealth enables you to help more people:
    Click to Tweet

    The risks of neglecting your well-being.

    When you put everyone else's needs above your own, you put yourself at risk for physical and mental health issues that will ultimately get in the way of your ability to be there for others. If you don't prioritize wellness for yourself first, you're more likely to experience burnout, stress, fatigue, and overwhelm which affects your relationships both at home and at work.

    Research shows that a chronically stressed brain lowers our cognitive abilities and empathy—two important dimensions of delivering compassionate, quality health care. Stress also leads to toxic emotions, like envy and resentment, which affect our ability to build positive relationships necessary for working in a team environment. As a result, stress in the workplace can lead to more conflict and turnover.  

    When caregivers are at their best, they have a greater capacity to give their time and energy to others.

    When caregivers feel cared for, they feel better and have more bandwidth to care for others. Healthy employees capitalize on opportunities to learn and grow, which opens doors for new roles and responsibilities. Rather than just trying to "make it through," employees who are physically and mentally healthy thrive in the workplace, and everyone around them benefits. Co-workers can more effectively work together with less conflict and a better sense of fulfillment. More importantly, they’re able to be more attentive and careful both individually and collectively as a team, which leads to better, safer patient care.

    What does it look like to prioritize the physical and mental health of caregivers?

    If your focus is often on the needs of everyone around you, it's time to start checking in with yourself to see how you're doing. Everyone needs something different to feel their best. For some, a daily routine or habit before work, such as exercise, helps prepare them mentally for the day. Other individuals might be in a circumstance or mental state that would benefit from therapy.

    Self-care is a buzzword these days, but wellness encompasses more than just making time for healthy habits like getting adequate sleep and eating nutritious foods. Wellness considers cognitive, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors that help you to feel your best. Social factors are also critical, which is why it’s important to work somewhere you feel cared for both by your colleagues and your organization at large.

    Practicing gratitude as self-care.

    One of the best things you can do for your wellness is the simple practice of living with an “attitude of gratitude” which can transform your physical and mental stateand those around you. Gratitude has long-lasting benefits for your health, and neuroscience experts link gratitude to social bonding, reward, and stress relief structures in the brain. Other studies cement these findings, proving that being thankful can also lead to less depression, more sleep, and better overall health.

    The impact of gratitude on our ability to care for one another.

    Expressing gratitude can make us happier and healthier, and when we’re more positive people, it benefits those around us, too. When we show gratitude to each other, it strengthens our ties to one another. Studies show that when we have better social support systems, we can more effectively combat stress and depression. With less work-related stress and more optimism, we’re more likely to find value in our work. This sense of purpose is a powerful antidote to caregiver burnout and turnover

    Expressions of gratitude don’t have to be complicated or costly. Whether you jot your blessings in a journal or you deliver an unexpected “thank you” to a doctor or nurse in person, the practice of gratitude can improve your overall well-being. A philanthropic investment in honor of a caregiver or care experience can also go a long way in demonstrating gratitude for a healthcare worker.

    Prioritizing caregiver wellness at the organizational level.

    Unfortunately, all the self-care in the world can’t completely eliminate burnout and stress in the healthcare setting. Unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it harder for healthcare workers to attend to their own needs. That’s why it’s important that healthcare organizations make it a priority to support their employees. 

    At MedStar Health, we're working hard to create a culture that acknowledges when people need help and responds by extending services to improve their wellbeing. We offer a variety of wellness programs and resources designed to help meet the professional and personal needs of our employees. From wellness educational materials and free mental health resources to subsidized child care and in-person wellness rounds, we’re dedicated to giving our providers and associates the tools they need to thrive. 

    Prioritizing your health and wellness means that you feel supported by those around you. When we care for each other and have organizational resources to help us achieve wellness, we’re more likely to find our work meaningful and therefore have enough in our tank to give to others.

    Are you grateful for a healthcare worker at MedStar Health who has made a difference in your life or a loved one’s life?

    Let them know today.

    Express Your Gratitude.

  • October 29, 2021

    By Victoria Greenberg, MD

    Despite increasing evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are not only safe but critical for patients who are pregnant, only 32% of pregnant people in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated before or during their pregnancy.

    Initial vaccine clinical trials did not include people who were pregnant or breastfeeding, so early hesitancy was understandably common. But numerous studies have since shown that this population—and their babies—benefit significantly from each of the three COVID-19 vaccines: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.

    A lot of the data we have comes directly from patients. The V-safe COVID-19 Vaccine Pregnancy Registry collects detailed information from people who were vaccinated within 30 days of their last menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Through personalized health check-ins, patients share vaccine side effects they experience, as well as their medical records, to provide a comprehensive view of their health during and after pregnancy.

    With so much misinformation available, it’s important for patients who are pregnant—or planning to become pregnant—to know three key findings from several months of research. 


    1. Getting vaccinated reduces the risk of COVID-19 complications and death for pregnant patients.

    Around 97% of pregnant patients hospitalized for COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. Protect yourself and your newborn against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

    Compared to non-pregnant women with COVID-19, infected pregnant patients have:

    • More than a two-fold increased risk of requiring ICU admission, invasive ventilation, and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which helps your heart and lungs rest as your body fights the virus
    • A 70% increased risk of death—August 2021 had the highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in pregnant people in one month

    Compared to pregnant women without COVID-19, infected pregnant patients have an increased risk for:

    • Coagulopathy: excessive bleeding if blood loses its ability to clot 
    • Preeclampsia: sudden high blood pressure that can lead to organ damage 
    • Preterm birth: can result in death, disability, and breathing, feeding, vision, and hearing problems
    • Stillbirth: pregnancy loss

    From hormonal to physical changes, pregnancy brings its own challenges. Getting the vaccine can protect you and your newborn from additional serious, avoidable complications.


    A word about blood clot risks.

    Some patients have expressed concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s risk of a rare clotting condition called thrombosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paused the vaccine earlier this year after fewer than 30 cases were reported out of nearly 9 million doses. Distribution resumed shortly after, as the risk is very low compared to the benefits of the vaccine. 


    Getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still safe, and the risk of complications is low. We recommend women contact their doctors if they have symptoms such as limb swelling, blurred vision, headaches, or chest pain.


    2. You can pass protective antibodies to your baby by getting vaccinated while pregnant or breastfeeding.

    Multiple studies show that vaccinated pregnant patients pass virus protection to their babies. A recent study further confirmed this transfer by distinguishing between antibodies (blood proteins that help the immune system fight viruses) that developed in newborns naturally and antibodies that were triggered by the mother’s vaccination. All of the babies had antibodies that developed in response to the vaccine and were therefore protective against the virus.

    If you are currently breastfeeding and did not receive the vaccine while pregnant, it is safe to get vaccinated now. Protective antibodies have been shown to transfer to infants through breast milk—especially for mothers who breastfeed past 23 months.

    Vaccination is recommended even after someone has already had COVID-19. In fact, the immune response after vaccination is even stronger than after having the infection.

    3. The COVID-19 vaccine does not increase risk of miscarriage.

    A common misconception that has lingered for nearly a year is that the COVID-19 vaccine increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage. This is simply not true and has been dispelled many times.

    The myth is based on a false report about similarities between a spike protein in the vaccine and a natural protein in the body called syncytin-1, which helps the placenta fully form and nourish a growing fetus. The report claimed that because the vaccine trains the body to fight the spike protein in COVID-19, it would also train the body to fight syncytin-1 and lead to miscarriage.

    Research has shown that no significant similarity exists and the rate of miscarriage, which affects 11 to 22% of pregnancies, is not higher in pregnant women who have been vaccinated.

    There is also no evidence that the vaccine causes infertility in men or women. However, early research is showing that the COVID-19 virus may cause infertility in men, which is all the more reason for male partners to get vaccinated.

    Nearly all pregnant patients hospitalized for #COVID19 have not been vaccinated. Learn why the #COVID19Vaccine is not only safe during #pregnancy but also beneficial for babies:
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    Clarifying confusion about boosters and breakthroughs.

    While more than 30% of people in the U.S. have yet to receive their first vaccine, others are now eligible for a third dose. COVID-19 booster shots are recommended for all patients who received the full Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are:

    At MedStar Health, we strongly encourage all eligible patients—including pregnant patients—to receive a booster shot.


    No vaccine is 100% effective at preventing any illness. “Breakthrough” infections can occur in people who have been vaccinated because viruses mutate as they spread. But getting vaccinated significantly lowers your risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms if you do become infected.

    After getting vaccinated, decrease your chances of
    getting and spreading the virus by continuing to practice good hand washing, as well as social distancing and masking.

    Your well-being is our top priority, and getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect your and your baby’s long-term health.


    COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy.

    Request a vaccine appointment to lower your risk of COVID-19 complications.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment