Together with 3 other Malaysians, I enrolled in and was selected to participate in the one-week INSEAD Leadership Development course in Fontainebleau, France. This intensive course is sponsored and put together by the World Medical Association (WMA) in its efforts to produce and train a core group of physician leaders as part of its ongoing Caring Physicians of the World Initiative, first mooted by its past-president Prof. Yank D. Coble Jr.
I must admit that I am curiously grateful, somewhat excited and charged-up at having such a chance to join Europe's foremost and most illustrious graduate and executive business school. I have always believed that continuing education through whichever means, is one's necessary life-long learning process which should never cease.
But to learn how to be an effective spokesperson and advocate for health care issues, to re-energize one's medical professionalism and perhaps to enhance my individual capacity on how to better influence and shape health policy makers, is a challenge that I find hard to resist.
This course is also meant to help us interact more cogently with decision makers and national political leaders. There are also ingenious exercises on team building which would help foster greater unity of purpose and cohesion with our own medical colleagues. Media and public speaking training is also incorporated into this course, which provided great if sometimes obscure insights as to how we can each become better and more effective as leaders who can and must perform well.
During his tenure as President of the WMA (2004-5), Dr Coble edited and produced a book aptly titled "Caring Physicians of the World" where in his introduction, he quotes:
"The most important thing is caring, so do it first,In this beautifully produced book, the publication of which was sponsored by Pfizer Inc., one of the 65 doctors (from 58 nations) so honoured included one Sister Lucia Yu from Korea.
for the caring physician best inspires hope and trust."
~ Sir William Osler (1849-1919)
Following specialisation in obstetrics and gynecology in Korea, Lucia Yu did post-graduate training in the USA, converted to Catholicism and became a religious nun. Then for more than 20 years, she worked as a missionary doctor in Kenya lookng after African patients with malaria and tuberculosis--much in the footsteps of the famed Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Currently she is back in Korea where she runs a clinic for the poor and indigent.
Malaysian doctors are also honoured in having Dr Thamboo Devaraj, 84-year old Penang-based clinical oncologist-physician, featured. Datuk Dr Devaraj is also a past-president of the MMA (1983), chair of the ethics committee (1985-2000) and elected Malaysian Medical Council member for many years. He is honoured for his relentless pursuit of palliative care and advocacy for cancer patients, when he helped establish Cancerlink Foundation and the National Cancer Society of Malaysia. He is also the founding chairman of Malaysian Hospice Council in 2001. We salute such great men and women of humility and caring, and these should serve as standard bearers of our now much maligned and dispirited profession.
Dr. Yank Coble is President-Emeritus of the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Endocrinology. Currently he heads the Center for Global Health and Medical Diplomacy as Director, and is truly a distinguished physician par excellence, with an unflagging passion for medical advocacy, professional standards and ethics. He underlines the 'Caring-Ethics-Science' paradigm of modern medicine which should underpin our medical practice, where we place our patients' interests first and foremost.
He is a tireless crusader for the professional well-being and honour of doctors, believing that the medical profession is still well worth its while, and that doctors must re-ignite their passion and enthusiasm for their chosen vocation. He reminds us not to become too disheartened and dumbed down due to the current changing climate of patient empowerment, eroding trust for doctors, medicolegal challenges and deterioration in professional autonomy.
In his introduction to our Leadership course, Dr. Coble emphasised that we must try and reinforce the concept that health care costs are not merely budgetary 'expenses', and that these should be regarded as long-term 'investments', with extremely worthwhile returns. In focusing on our patients, who have much retained their ongoing trust in physicians, we can and have reduced disease, despair, disability and premature deaths. He gave some research data which estimated the return of investment (for health care expenditure over the past few decades) of some 57 trillion dollars (USD)!
He cautioned against the uncontrolled entry of money and commercial interests into the health care sector, which had rendered the previously cared-for 'patient' into a cold disinterested 'consumer'. He represents perhaps the old school of what is still good and reminiscently evocative of what it means to be a physician--a healer and mender of ill-health and broken bodies, a socially-mindful campaigner for public good and justice.
Perhaps there is still hope yet for all aspiring and even jaded ('burnt-out') physicians that even as our roles have changed and seemingly diluted from its power status and paternalistic past, we have stalwarts and exemplary doctors who continue to champion our profession so stoutly and fervently. All we are called upon to do, is to remember our caring nature, our vocation which should always place our patients at the forefront of our work, our vision and mission...
"The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend." ~ Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)By focusing on the patient, his/her rights and responsibilities, and on the value of modern medicine (economic cost-effectiveness), Dr Coble hopes to restore enthusiasm and optimism in the field of medicine among medical professionals. He urges that physicians should engage in more inclusive and advocative medical and social leadership, which when based on caring, ethics and science, can help our patients "die young, as late as possible".
As physician leaders, perhaps we can help make a difference. No matter how small the impact, we may yet make the practice of modern medicine that much more meaningful and rewarding...
"Knowing is not enough
we must apply;
Willing is not enough
we must do!"