Issuing a call not just for doctors, but leaders


Dr. Ronald Fong

The UC Davis program that trains new doctors to practice family medicine will add two positions in the summer of 2011. The funding for this expansion comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

These grants are aimed at combating the growing shortage of primary care physicians in our state and nation. However, mere infusion of additional dollars to our current model of physician training will not improve our healthcare delivery and outcomes. We cannot have more of the same when the same is failing us. Placing more players in a flawed system only perpetuates the system. As we reconstruct our mindset, we must recognize that novelty lacks the sustainability that innovation exalts. We can no longer engage in recruiting medical students for the sole purpose to graduate them as family physicians. Rather, we will issue a call for emerging leaders.

These needs were substantiated in my mind during my last two conference presentations. I spoke on preparations for residency applications to medical students at the California Academy of Family Physicians Student Conference in mid-October. I asked the audience how many of them considered themselves to be leaders. Initially, there was no show of hands. Then, a few arms drifted awkwardly upward. But none shot up reflexively. The second instance was at our residency network’s seminar on professional development and practice management. I asked the same question; the residents, as with their medical student counterparts, had a similar tepid response. We cannot guide change when we do not lead.

As part of our curriculum redesign, we need to address medical students as paladins, and not as squires. We must show them that their patients and circles will view them as leaders, regardless of their self-assessment. And, we must impart to them that leadership is not a burden, but a legacy to be forged. We will choose our students for this trek based not primarily on test scores or letters of recommendations. Rather, we will seek those who demand challenges, shatter comfort zones, and stoke their passions by the advancement and of others.

As physicians, we have a fiduciary obligation to our patients. Fulfillment of this duty requires advocacy for and with them. Improved working conditions for primary care physicians must include strengthened relationships with our patients. This dedicated training track will propel residents into communities to take on responsibilities that are extensions of their core identities as healers, and to expand their roles as teachers in domains outside of their original vision. Elevation of self is promotion; elevation of others is leadership.

Dr. Fong is director of the UC Davis Family Medicine Residency Network. His opinions are his own and do not represent UC Davis.

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