Confinement as seen by the Dean of the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM)

Jean-Daniel Tissot is the Dean of the Faculty of Biology and Medicine. (Félix Imhof © UNIL)

Dear Professor, dear Dean, how are you?

Jean-Daniel Tissot : It is a period of war that is getting longer, while waiting for a vaccine to be developed or for this virus to disappear altogether, like its predecessors SARS and MERS. For me, Carl von Clausewitz is not far away, neither is Tzu Sun… We are in a war of WE against WE. The « I »  is disappearing. It is strange to wonder how you are, but oh how salutary: for a long time we have been lost between the verb to be and the verb to have. What matters to me is to use today the verb to act: action with responsibility in the service of solidarity. But to be frank: I am preoccupied, busy, tired, but alive. Then the ME fades into the WE. This is my reality.

What have been and are the emergencies for your faculty?

Faculty emergencies are part of managing a new Janus. For some, go to the front, for others, stay home. The reality of daily life is full of surprises, uncertainty, selfishness for some, generosity for others: this is an observation, not a criticism. We are passing from an era characterized by each one for himself (because I am worth it) to a phase of renewal which is that of each one for all (we are one, with the risk of fractures…). It is the management of the risk of fractures that exhausts me. It is obvious that this troubled period modifies the rhythms of life, sleep is bad… But globally, the FBM is coping, the mobilization is major, the dynamic is beautiful. There is a lot of courage, strength, energy and solidarity. All this takes us and carries us along with dynamics oriented towards solutions and not towards problems.

Your students are also invested in this fight…

Everyone wants to get involved, even if it is mainly the last year students that are being mobilized. Some have fallen ill, and we are rediscovering that medicine can be a dangerous activity for those who practise it. Some of our students are clearly committed to doing it, others are ready and waiting, as in The Desert of the Tartars. But all of them are doing an experiment that will be validated in terms of study credits. There remains the question of examinations at the Swiss level: for some years now, we have had to confront our students with real clinical situations but this activity is suspended today, with the risk of returning to a MCQ… I hope that our authorities will decide instead to give these students their Master’s degree and even the medical diploma in recognition of their experience from this exceptional crisis, including those of our students who are part of the populations at risk and have had to stay at home, we can all recognize them for their commitment and their reflection on the meaning of care.

Do you feel that physicians may be a little too present in the media at the moment?

I would say yes. Society has agreed, in the name of public health, to listen to those who represent it, and the economy has been broken. That was right, but a second paradigm shift will have to take place, in which doctors and epidemiologists will have to put themselves at the service of society and not just the sick individual. Using our medical knowledge and our discoveries to assist the authorities, knowing that nothing is certain with this virus. We are making bets at the moment and we will also need economists, sociologists, philosophers…

Do you already sense the end of confinment, under what conditions or at least in what state of mind would you like us to approach it?

No one has seen anything coming (but for years I have been predicting to my relatives and family a return of the plague, in the symbolic sense of the word). I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this war, but we’re going to come out different and with deference to each other and to nature. Clearly, the University, the Faculty of Biology and Medicine will come out of this crisis with a form of greatness if and only if they truly realize that they are at the service of mankind and society and not the other way around. And, on a personal level, with the awareness that we are all mortal and fragile. Imagine this crisis if we did not know about microbes, if viruses had not been discovered: like the Black Death, divine punishment would have been evoked. So let intelligence be at the service of reason. With this notion, whatever our beliefs, whatever our spirituality, that love of neighbour is a reality that makes human beings different and qualifies them: humans are living beings filled with spirituality… However dark the future may seem, it will be enriching! Let us fill it with hope!