An Online ‘Oasis’ to Help Front-Line Workers Cope With Stress

How three Emergency Department doctors launched a website filled with inspiring art and powerful words to help healthcare workers through the pandemic.

During the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Rachel Kowalsky wanted to provide her colleagues at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center with a bright spot of encouragement. So she sent Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” which talks about finding solace in nature during turbulent times, to a few of her fellow doctors, including Dr. Shari Platt.

“The imagery was so gorgeous and so calming,” says Dr. Kowalsky, assistant attending pediatrician in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital. “There is a line, ‘I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.’ In a few brief words, it invites stillness, awareness of the beauty and durability of the natural world, and brings the reader the comforting image of light.”

Dr. Rachel Kowalsky

Dr. Rachel Kowalsky

Dr. Platt, chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine, responded by sharing an essay she had penned with her colleagues called “Where Have All the Children Gone?” which addressed how hospitals were seeing fewer pediatric patients during the pandemic because only people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and other critical emergencies were being admitted. From that exchange, an idea was sparked.

“Every time we found a poem that resonated with us, it was so helpful. We immediately saw the power there,” says Dr. Kowalsky, who is also an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “What the arts can do for people in medicine, and all of us, is help us reflect and make meaning of what we’re experiencing. We saw that we could help nurture a collective sense of strength and resilience using poetry and the arts — and that we could begin right away.”

Dr. Shari Platt

Dr. Shari Platt

To show their support for those on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Kowalsky and Dr. Platt started sending out a daily e-newsletter with the subject line “Take a Break” to the inboxes of the Emergency Medicine department at Weill Cornell Medicine last spring. Each email delivered an inspiring work of art, such as a poem by Mary Oliver, a musical reverie from Yo-Yo Ma, or a link to a dance video created by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Above all, they provided a much-needed dose of hope.

“We felt like it was something that we could give back to our colleagues when everything looked so grim,” says Dr. Platt, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine. “And we had countless comments that people really loved it.”

So much so that, with the help of Dr. Anthony Yuen, assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, they launched the site Like a hospital break room, the online destination is a virtual gathering place for healthcare workers from across the country (there has been at least one visitor from every state) to come together and decompress over poems, passages, and personal testimonials.

Dr. Anthony Yuen

Dr. Anthony Yuen

“It’s meant to be an oasis. Since most of what we were seeing online and in the news is negative, we have kept the tone of positive and hopeful,” Dr. Kowalsky says.

“ has provided a welcome respite from the brutal daily reality of the pandemic,” says Dr. Josyann Abisaab, assistant attending physician in Emergency Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and a contributor to the site. “After a long and grueling shift, where fear, loss, and fatigue were prevalent, reading an inspirational poem or listening to melodious music helped restore mental grit.”

Over the past year, also proved to be a safe haven for those who needed it as the country grappled with a national reckoning on race, publishing personal essays like the one by Dr. Abisaab about COVID-19 and racism and highlighting anti-hate work by Black artists, such as Maya Angelou’s “A Brave and Startling Truth.”

“We want to respond to whatever is on everybody’s minds when they walk into work. So when there was the killing of George Floyd, we began talking about issues of racism and the importance of being anti-racist,” Dr. Kowalsky says.

Now, in the face of a second wave of COVID-19 cases during a pandemic winter — and as they await a broader rollout of the coronavirus vaccine — the doctors hope that becomes an added resource that will help others cope.

“This is a forum for anyone to visit. I share it with friends and family, not only with physicians,” Dr. Platt says. “ is meant to be a soothing, therapeutic, and comforting place where people can find shared experiences.”

Voices from Our Break Room

Love Letter in a virus pandemic
By Dr. Maria de Sousa

Bagpipes played in Scotland
Tenors sing from verandas in Italy
The dead will not hear them
And the living want to mourn their dead in silence
Who do they want to cheer?
The children?
But the children are also dying

In my circumstance
I may die
Wondering if I will ever see you again
But before I die
I want you to know
How much I care for you
How much I worry about you
How much I remember shared and cherished
Moments then
Eternities now
The sea
The feather that the gull took to our table
Golden cuff links
The magnolia
The hospital
Socks pijamas and other thoughtful things
All moment then
Eternities now
As I may die and you must live
In your living the hope of my lasting

Dr. de Sousa, an adjunct professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, wrote this poem to all her friends days before dying from COVID-19 on April 14, 2020. 

At A Glance

Featured Experts

Consult an Expert

Find a Doctor or call