By Donald M. Jacobs, M.D., F.A.C.S.
As we work our way through undergraduate school, medical school, residency and fellowship, we dedicate a large portion of our time and energy to the acquisition of knowledge and skills, including our development as leaders. So how do we reap the benefits of that development as we become practicing physicians?
Certainly one important way is to be fully engaged in our profession. Through our clinical skills, compassion and understanding of the complexities of health care, we make a difference, improve lives, and bring comfort to patients and families. I believe our development as physicians also has positioned us well to lead in large and small ways, and our profession’s values give us a strong foundation from which to lead. I would suggest we not only have the opportunity, but the obligation to lead.
When the MMA staff suggested I address the topic of leadership I started by reflecting on my own involvement with the association over the past three decades. I joined because I believed that getting involved in organized medicine through the MMA, AMA and my specialty societies just came with being a physician.
It was expected. I learned that through these organizations I could make a difference beyond the doctor-patient relationship and further develop my leadership skills and experience.
Very early in my medical school education I was exposed to the leadership precedent expected and described in the foundational ethic of our profession. The Hippocratic Oath, that ancient Greek pledge that binds physicians together through a call to practice medicine with humility, integrity and respect, remains relevant today. That Oath describes several important competencies. I’ll highlight several that are fundamental to us in health care today (taken from a modern-day translation of the Oath by scholars at Tufts University):
• Integrity and Respect
- “I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.” This is certainly a competency of leadership that we should carry forward to our interactions with each other and to everything we do.
- “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding the twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.” This addresses value and professionalism. We show leadership by counseling our patients and making our therapeutic decisions within a context of value. That’s why, for example, the MMA supports the Choosing Wisely
- “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability.” This reminds us that the decisions we make with our patients, and in the context of our leadership responsibilities, must consider the full context of the circumstances and be made within the context of our values.
Many of the foundational elements that make us exceptional at caring for our patients also serve us well as we step forward to lead in other ways. We should reap the benefits of that leadership development. We should expect to lead the transformations within health care.
Through efforts large and small, both local and national, we should guide, inform and be those who shape the future of the profession and the future of health care delivery. We should lead the way to affordability, quality and safety. We should lead the way to health without disparity.
Just as with our patient care, we should offer our leadership with humility, respect and integrity. With unwavering focus on our patients and communities, we need to be difference makers.
No one is better positioned to lead health care forward than we are.
Tell us what you think. In what other ways can physicians lead meaningful change?
Donald M. Jacobs, M.D., F.A.C.S. is MMA’s president-elect and is Chief of Clinical Operations for the Hennepin Healthcare System in Minneapolis.