by Tom Robertson
Executive Director, Vizient Research Institute

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. The dictionary defines a hero as a person who is admired for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. Common synonyms for the adjective heroic are bold, courageous and valiant.

When I think of heroes, my mind tends to focus on courage, and more specifically on courage in the face of imminent personal danger. People like Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, or Eddie Rickenbacker, the greatest American flying ace of World I, or the Tuskegee Airmen, who overcame prejudice and social barriers to put their lives at risk as fighter pilots.

We lost more than 400 first responders at ground zero on 9/11 — firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians who were last seen running into buildings just before they collapsed. Coast Guard rescue crews who head out of safe harbors into treacherous seas in response to emergency distress calls. Ordinary folks who we might see at the grocery store, or whose car we park next to at our kids’ soccer games, who lay it all on the line for the rest of us when disasters strike.

There are heroes among us as we face this global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Doctors, nurses and lab technicians standing in the doorways as patients are wheeled in. Patient transporters, dietary staff who bring meals, and maintenance staff who sterilize treatment spaces before patients arrive and after they leave. Long-term care staff who protect the vulnerable elderly, and ICU staff who care for the most desperately ill. All folks with families of their own, who worry about them and about whom they worry, but who put it on the line every day in spite of being tired, in spite of being scared. Healers. Caregivers. Sources of comfort. Ports in the storm.


Before the international outbreak of the virus, I had just begun reading a book about an obscure Polish resistance agent named Witold Pilecki, who got himself incarcerated in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on purpose. To establish a bridge to the outside. To get word to the world from inside the barbed wire. The title of the book says it all in two simple words: The Volunteer.

To the volunteers on the front lines of the fight ... to the caregivers and first responders who run into the line of fire not away from it ... to the heroes, we say, thank you.

About the author and the Vizient Research Institute. As executive director of the Vizient Research Institute, Tom Robertson and his team have conducted strategic research on clinical enterprise challenges for 20 years. The groundbreaking work at the Vizient Research Institute drives exceptional member value using a systematic, integrated approach. The investigations quickly uncover practical, tested results that lead to measurable improvement in clinical and economic performance.