Many years ago, after graduating from medical school, I completed a stint in primary care and then entered a surgical training program. My fellow residents had gone directly into surgical training after medical school, so I was academically and technically behind.
I had a very rough start, and was thinking about quitting when the chair of the department, Dr. Bernie Langer, took me aside and told me I was being too hard on myself. He said I’d make a fine surgeon.
The conversation lasted five minutes and changed my life. Since that time, I’ve thought a lot about what Dr. Langer did. He showed leadership. Not in the way we normally think about it—he wasn’t a CEO making a funding decision, or a researcher announcing the results of a major study.
Dr. Langer demonstrated leadership in a more fundamental way. He saw I was having trouble, and he reassured me and restored my confidence. I think this is what good leaders in healthcare do: they show people a way forward. Leaders create a vision that the people around them can share, and then work to make that vision a reality. When people fail, leaders help build resilience; when people succeed, they offer praise. They show empathy, compassion, and a concern for safe, high-quality care every day.
This sort of leadership is needed more than ever now. The profession is struggling with a public misrepresentation that casts physicians as placing finances ahead of patient care. At the same time, physicians are being asked to respond to increasingly complex care situations, and they can start to wonder why they are being provided with so little support—support they truly need and deserve.
In an era of growing burnout and increasing demands, we need to cultivate the human side of leadership. The CMPA works in many tangible ways to promote effective leadership, and at this year’s Annual Meeting and Information Session we’re going to be addressing some of the system-wide changes needed to respond to burnout and enhance physician wellness.
I encourage you to attend the session. I also encourage you to start thinking about ways in which you can show leadership—through acts of empathy and observation, and by doing what you can to help your colleagues thrive. As Dr. Langer taught me years ago, a single act of leadership can change the life of a patient, a colleague, or a student—all because you took the time to notice and care, and point a way forward.
MD, FRCSC, FACS, ICD.D