As a native Georgian, it was impossible to grow up without developing a passion for storytelling. I could not ask for a better vantage point to write my blog contribution from tonight, as I am seated on my patio with an amazing view of the woods, the sky is clear, it is a balmy 80-something degrees, and the sun is not due to set until 8:30. One might say I am a rocking chair and a Mason jar of iced tea away from complete cliché. On such a lovely evening I can’t help but feel a little bit sentimental—especially since it is the second-to-last Monday of the Class of 2015’s didactic year.
In the spirit of sentimentality, I sought out some pearls of wisdom from the founder of the PA profession, Dr. Eugene A. Stead, Jr. I was quickly rewarded when I found the following quote from a series of lectures he delivered at Duke University Medical Center on April 23, 1993:
Not everybody can think great thoughts indefinitely. After a while you begin to say “I've thought my last great thought. I think I'll go be useful.”
I was a ten year old whippersnapper when that lecture was delivered and had little utility for such beautifully simple wisdom. However, I would have been exceedingly grateful for such an enlightened philosophy last September when I was elected President of our class. Holding this role at the top program in the country may sound like a pretty swanky gig, but that is not what I want to convey to you. Instead, I hope to impart that it is an awesome responsibility to enable communication and facilitate your peers.
One of the inescapable ironies of PA admissions is that extraordinarily driven and competitive candidates are frequently best equipped with the necessary academic talent, professional experience, and social aptitude to present themselves favorably. Interestingly, once one is accepted to the Duke PA Program I think drive is what sees him or her through, but competitiveness can become a limiting factor for personal growth. Dr. Stead had it figured out: success in PA school, medicine, and life in general is not about being the best, brightest, or loudest voice in the room, but just getting out there and doing something useful.
Confession: I am a “go big or go home” kind of guy when I set my mind to something. As an incoming class officer, this meant I had some pretty big ideas and a personal vision for what our year might look like. I think most of the other incoming officers and many of our classmates did, too. As you may suspect, some of our first meetings were comically disastrous as we unsuccessfully jockeyed competing interests to advance the agendas of 90 amazing but very different individuals. Many of us planned big, but initially we seemed to be producing much less than we expected in spite of success in previous leadership positions. I realize this is probably not selling anyone on student government during PA school, but bear with me—a sentimental Southern yarn is incomplete without a happy ending and maybe a life lesson or two.
Duke offers second-to-none classroom instruction, practicum and lab experiences, and exposure to many unique resources. One of my favorite things about the program is the team based practice training and group learning opportunities we are afforded. The program emphasizes these indispensable skills because they are relevant for students with any level of leadership experience and directly applicable to practicing in the real world. I found the principles we learn are especially important when functioning in a collaborative environment where every team member is exceptionally talented and driven, but may not share the same background or training.
As we learned about team-based practice, the student leadership quickly realized that selling a personal agenda, no matter how well-intentioned, is exhausting and accomplishes little. We also noticed some of the most surprisingly brilliant and talented people in our class were the quietest, so we needed to create room for those folks to be heard. Most interestingly, some small service projects that were initially blips on our meeting agendas seemed to become wildly successful. Equipped with this knowledge, we realigned our priorities and adopted a policy of outward focus for the remainder of the year. We decided to stop talking up a storm, and started relying on the talents of others, facilitating our peers, and getting out there to do something useful. Since that shift, our class has participated in more incredible service projects and volunteer opportunities than I have fingers and toes to count. In fact, we have gone “bigger” in our accomplishments than I could have ever hoped for.
We live in an era of team based medical practice. The success of this model does not hinge on singular ambition, vision, or voice. In fact, a team operating that way is destined for failure. However, a group of diverse, talented, and driven individuals committed to facilitating one another and consistently succeeding at the little things can achieve remarkable outcomes. This year that meant a successful student government, but in the future it means doing right by our patients and changing the face of healthcare for the better. With that said, whether you are an applicant, student, current provider, or just a friend of the program, I invite you to adopt Dr. Stead’s simple wisdom, avoid a world filled solely with your own “great thoughts,” and make a commitment to getting out there and doing something useful!