In the closing days of my Master of Medical Management program at USC, Professor Dave Logan introduced to our class the concept of a default future, the future that will happen if nothing is done to change it. He then asked the class - 22 seasoned physicians - to describe what health care would look like in 10 years:
"Everything will be automated and impersonal."
"You'll have to wait two years to get a hip replacement."
"It will be a two, no three tier system."
"The doctor-patient relationship will be history."
"Managers will run everything."
"Doctors will be worker bees."
"Patient care will suffer."
"I will finally get to go home at 4:30, because everything will shut down."
What struck me is that no one mentioned that doctors would be paid less money. This was the Marshall School of BUSINESS, yet none of these professionals put lower income at the top of their list of worries. Which is precisely why these physicians, all physicians, need to be leaders - not just managers, not just worker bees.
I have been a GLMS officer for the past three years, and at every board meeting it stared at me from the backside of my name placard - our mission statement. Only in the past few months have I really taken notice. It is so elegant:
Promote the science, art and profession of medicine.
Protect the integrity of the patient-physician relationship.
Advocate for the health and well-being of the community.
Unite physicians regardless of practice setting to achieve these ends.
Doesn't this sum up why you and I became physicians? Isn't this a stark contrast to the default futures predicted by my USC cohorts?
I remember very little about the blur that was my first week of medical school, but I will never forget the question that one of the PhD types posed to our class. He asked us to raise our hand if we went into medicine to save the world. Without hesitation almost every hand enthusiastically went up.
"Then you are in the wrong place," he smugly blurted into his lavalier mike. "Go learn how to grow corn in the desert. Then you will save the world."
This made me think. Why did I want to be a doctor? Was it for the prestige? The respect? The money? The power? Or was it because I wanted to have a profession where I could touch the lives of others? Relieve the suffering of a single individual? Of a multitude?
It has been my privilege to be a physician now for more than 28 years. And while I still can't fully answer the question of why I wanted to become a doctor, I can definitely say why I want to wake up tomorrow and be a doctor. It is in that mission statement.
Some of you are in the whirlwind that is medical school, others are developing confidence to match the bravado that carries you during the early years in practice, some are grinding away against the current of the faceless third-party, and some are looking back and wondering if they should have tried to grow corn on sand.
There is a default future out there. Somehow, you know what it is. If you pause and think, you can even say it out loud so it seems more real. And it will come to pass, unless you make a decision to act - unless we make a decision to act.
I am asking you to unite with your partner, your mentor, your colleagues, your spouse, your patients and me. Together we can take the first steps to change the default future. It has to start somewhere. It can start here. Right now.
We have core values that we share, and when our strategy is in line with achieving the greater good our choice of profession becomes a higher calling.
Communication is paramount. And we must communicate passionately and effectively. Connect with your colleagues via tweets and email (find me on Twitter @jamespmurphymd; my email is email@example.com). Join a committee, attend the meetings, call legislators, write letters to the editor, join the GLMS Alliance with your spouse and look to GLMS for leadership development opportunities. As soon as possible, download the new GLMS mobile app and read the alerts, publications and notices.
Lead. Manage if you must, but you must lead.
Dave Logan told us of a band of laborers sweating in the hot sun in some poverty-stricken Third World country. They were pinging away at rocks with small hammers, relentless, sweat pouring, dust choking. But amazingly they seemed happy despite the mind-numbing conditions. When one was asked how he could not be miserable in the mundane task of breaking rocks, he replied, "I'm not breaking rocks, sir. I am building a cathedral."
Let's make a new future.
Let's build a cathedral.