October 12, 2021
As if things were not challenging enough with COVID, practicing medicine in the Valley has the added strain of difficult relationships between major stakeholders in town. Many physicians find themselves caught in the middle, unsure of where allegiances should lie and how the outcome of this fight will affect our practices, our communities and our own lives. I’m relatively new to the area, and don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the tension, but it is clear that key relationships are strained. In times like these, supporting each other is even more tantamount. A word of concern, going the extra mile for a colleague, or lending an ear, can make a world of difference. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of such kindness, and in the current milieu, it means so much when it comes from colleagues embroiled in the same battle.
In one such moment, an esteemed colleague recently told me the recipe of her career success, saying, “I just always follow my true north.” Of course, advice like this never steers us wrong, yet can often seem difficult to follow. Perhaps as we advance in our careers, motives like finances, power, or social or political allegiances alter the course of our ship. Or maybe it is the unforeseen obstacles that shake us, which the past year has thrown out in abundance. Either way, as we steer our course, we may find ourselves at risk of losing our true north.
This is a well-known phenomenon; life promises to throw each of us our fair share of tumult. But to quote A League of Their Own, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Staying true to one’s deeply held beliefs, core values and principles throughout the storm is such a prized leadership skill in part because it is so rare.
The model of leadership that rests on bureaucracy, paternalism, hierarchy, self-interest, and charisma is antiquated. This model has passed on an insidious inheritance of things like systemic racism, sexism, nepotism, and groupthink to our collective experience. It is a culture so deeply embedded that it is almost invisible, though we face its myriad effects daily. As physicians in the Valley, we need only to consider our patient population to demonstrate abundant examples of these effects.
But just like Mr. Rogers’ mother told him, “You will always find people who are helping.” Leadership in the name of service is not a new phenomenon, either, and we also have many illustrious examples of it, both in our community and at large. These leaders know that authenticity, strength of character, honesty, humility and service are of far more value—priceless, in fact—and pay dividends not only in their leadership roles but also in their personal satisfaction. Research has proven this. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, renowned Nobel Peace Prize winner, humanitarian, and musician, said it well: “The only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” And what could be more important than our own happiness?
As physicians, we both lead and serve every day, whether with our staff, our patients, health care administration, or our families. With all the challenges we face both personally and as a community, defining our true north and thoughtfully (re)directing our course is as crucial as ever. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, and to the communities who need us.
And to the beloved colleague who reminded me of this—the one and only Dr. Christina Maser—thank you.
About the Author: Farah Karipineni, MD, MPH, is board certified in General Surgery and fellowship trained in Endocrine Surgery. Dr. Karipineni holds a faculty appointment with University of California, San Francisco in the UCSF Fresno Department of Surgery.
To learn more about Dr. Karipineni, click here.