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Guest Blogger: Teeb Al-Samarrai

Each year on the anniversary of September 11, like so many people around the world, I find myself reflecting and mourning.

I mourn the lives lost on that tragic day in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

As an American, I mourn the lives lost as a consequence of our governments' reaction to the tragic events of that day.

As an Iraqi-American, I mourn the thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost directly as a result of war.

As a physician, I mourn the millions of American lives lost because our government chose to wage war instead of providing medical care and education or addressing the social and economic disparities in our country.

I deeply appreciated a recent issue of the Lancet, which was devoted to "reflections on the events of 9/11.” It provided primary research articles, reviews, and opinion pieces on the short-term and long-term physical, mental, and public health consequences of 9/11 and the events that followed. The papers in this special issue explored the health impact in the US with evidence of continued post-traumatic stress disorder and respiratory illnesses among rescue and recovery workers even nine years later. Firefighters who survived experienced an excess incidence of cancers. The issue also renews a discussion about the ethics of war and the civilian casualties. Authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene discuss how 9/11 has changed the way we prepare for public health emergencies. Researchers also discuss the impact on refugee health, particularly that of Muslim Arabs in the US.

In an introductory editorial, the Lancet Editors provide their own reflection, ”Personal accounts from doctors working in the health systems of Baghdad and New York City provide insights into what it is like to work in Iraq now, and what it was like in New York on 9/11. Practicing medicine in extreme, dangerous conditions is beyond the experience of most doctors. But there is a message for all: find time somehow amid the chaos to think about how you and those health-care workers around you feel. Medicine is about so much more than “just work.”'

So, we are reminded, as physicians practicing we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our patients to find moments “amid the chaos” of our lives to do more than “just work,” but to also reflect.

Doctors for America has provided a link for physicians and medical students around the country to share their reflections on 9/11. Now is the time to think about what 9/11 has meant to the health of the world, and to our own personal and professional development.

Teeb Al-Samarrai is a physician and epidemiologist with interests in refugee health, global health education, and the social and structural determinants of health in the US and abroad. She attended Yale Medical School where she also trained in internal medicine. Most recently she completed training as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in New York City and now works at the California Department of Health. She also serves as Assistant Director of the Center for Global Health at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. 

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