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Leadership roles allow physicians to make a difference

A message to all physicians from David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, on the importance of physician leadership and how to get involved.

By — Posted Aug. 12, 2013

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Only four years into my medical practice, while I was still finding my way as a physician, I attended a meeting of the Missouri State Medical Assn. One of the more senior members approached me that night and asked if I would like to become a vice councilor, or regional board member.

I was honored by the request, but I was also startled. I was only beginning to understand what it meant to be a doctor. What made him (or me) think I could make a difference on the board of our state's medical society?

In the end, I took the position, which somewhat to my surprise proved to be very interesting and rewarding. That role at the MSMA exposed me to people I wouldn't have met and stimulating ideas I hadn't thought about. I found that it was complementary to what I was doing day to day, so it actually helped me in my medical practice. It also helped me realize early in my career that more and more decisions about medical practice were going to be made outside the exam room, and if doctors, including me, were going to influence how these decisions were made, we were going to have to step up and get involved.

For me, that first leadership opportunity opened doors that otherwise would have been closed. It also gave me an opportunity to make a difference.

I was lucky. I had good mentors at the MSMA who were patient and saw potential in me that I didn't recognize in myself. Like most of you, my medical training had not prepared me to lead an organization or even a medical team. I had no idea leadership was a skill I would need.

Students today do recognize that need, and so do medical schools: Teamwork and leadership training are both high on the list of subjects being addressed through the 11 AMA grants announced in June to Accelerate Change in Medical Education.

This addition to the medical curriculum is past due. We have an urgent need for physician leadership on many levels. The most obvious is in the politics of health system reform.

Since I have been AMA chair, I have had time to look back along my own path, and I have come to several conclusions regarding physicians and leadership. I am sharing them today in hopes it may give some of you ideas and motivate you to act. Your talents are badly needed.

Medical societies often offer leadership training, as does the AMA, and we will soon be adding more. In the meantime, you can find existing opportunities on an AMA website.

The AMA Foundation also presents a number of possibilities for leadership. Additionally, the Foundation supports its members' meaningful pursuits on a local and national level. For more, go online.

If you are a member of a hospital medical staff, the AMA Organized Medical Staff Section has developed a number of leadership webcasts. Topics include “Leadership in Health Care Change,” “Leadership Perspectives on Providing Accountable Care” and a basic “Primer on Meeting Management.”

In July I wrote about professionalism, a subject that is important to me. The idea of physician leadership is another, but this is one that I write about with a sense of real urgency.

As we watch our new health care system take form, I believe that the only people who are looking out for the primacy of the physician-patient relationship are physicians. Every day, decisions are made that could significantly affect the future of that all-important connection. Physicians must play a role in those decisions.

Our patients are counting on us. As their doctors, we must not miss this chance to make a difference by being willing to step up and lead.

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