Friday, May 17, 2013

For the Record, Walking the Talk

"We at the University of Minnesota are proud to have researchers willing to take on extremely challenging problems, and to search for answers to tough questions. Sadly, not all of these patients get cured, but hopefully every case gets us closer to that goal. 

Mr. Markingson’s suicide was a tragedy, but it is not a scandal. Nine years later, it is time to stop blaming our university and our researchers. 
We hope Star Tribune readers won’t allow Elliott’s campaign to cloud reality. Judge the university not on unfounded accusations, but on careful examination of the facts surrounding this case, and on the scale of the groundbreaking advancements taking place across our campuses every day."

Defining Privilege

Dean Friedman delivered the following speech at the 2013 Medical School commencement ceremony.

You have worked very hard to get here, and you all deserve this moment to pause, to reflect on the experience, and to take pride in what you have learned and what you have accomplished.

Graduating from medical school makes you members of a special group. You have pledged your talents to an important cause and you have shown you have the skill to be entrusted with a vital role in our society.

Today you become members of a privileged group.

But what does it mean to be "privileged?"

It's an important question.

I believe your interpretation of this word will go a long way in determining your success as a physician, and defining the satisfaction you derive from your career.

Does being privileged mean you are special? Does it mean you are elite? Does it entitle you to a certain level of status and respect?

That is one way to look at it. When you are practicing medicine you will bring a skill set to the job that few can match. You will save lives. What could possibly be more important? You may feel your patients are lucky to have you as their doctor.

There are physicians you will encounter in your career that subscribe to this definition.

I remember a time when I was working in the ICU helping a very sick child with multi-organ failure. She could not be moved but needed a procedure to get more vascular access.

A chief resident came to see the child in the room and informed us that the procedure had to be done in the operating room because that is where he works best and he is the best at this type of procedure. When we told him the child was too ill to move, he said loud enough for all to hear, "If you want the best you will need to move the child to the operating room. Otherwise get someone else."

I remember being taken aback by this doctor's perspective. And the rest of us – the family, the nurses, and the other physicians in the room – we were all supposed to feel privileged to have access to this doctor's skill. This was not about a sick child. This was about whether that child was going to be granted an audience with this doctor. Would she be that lucky?

This kind of perspective is more common than you might expect. As you set the course of your career, I want to encourage a different perspective on the idea of "privilege."

Early in my career as a physician I had a patient that I first started to see when he was one day old. I got to know his family well. This little boy developed kidney failure and at the age of 5 he needed a biopsy of his transplanted kidney.

It was a tough procedure, but we usually allowed a family member in the biopsy room because it helped the patients. In this case it was the boy's mother who stayed with her son, holding his hand. We successfully completed the biopsy and the mother thanked the radiology technician who assisted with the procedure. The technician told the mom she should thank me because I did most of the hard work. The mom said, "I know, we thank him every day."

I remember thinking how amazing it is that a mother would say, “thank you.” And how privileged I was to be able to take care of that child and be part of that family.

As physicians we are allowed into people's lives during their highs and their lows. We get a rare chance to help them through challenges, to share in their joy, to give them hope, and to help them through when things don't go well. Each of these paths allows us an opportunity to make a difference.

From my perspective, it's not about getting recognition, but if you remember what a privilege it is to play this role in other people’s lives, you will in fact be very privileged.

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