Reflecting on a year of service, leadership, honor and privilege

ACP's president offers his final thoughts on a year of service to the College, the passage of health care reform, and the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath.

In my columns as president over the past year, I have tried to reflect on successive paragraphs of the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath and how they relate to the realities of today's practice of medicine. As I proceeded, I saw ever more clearly how the principles set forth in the Oath are as relevant today as was the original Oath to its time when it was crafted in the 5th century B.C.

This is my final column, so I now reflect on the last paragraph of the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, which says, “May I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

As internists, we are immersed in the essence of humanity, both its physicalness and its spirituality. We are privileged to witness the interplay of all these intricate and complex aspects each and every day as we move from room to room, patient to patient. This is a truly unique gift that our patients bestow upon us, and while we may try standing on many pedestals that are made of clay, this one is of rock, and can provide a meaning and purpose to life that no political, economic, bureaucratic or legal tsunami can wash away.

Still, there is a price to be paid. Reimbursement cuts, administrative trivia, regulatory changes, and liability exposure are but some of the many minefields we negotiate every day to take care of our patients. These and other constraints of our delivery system, which hinder our abilities to provide the optimum patient care that we desire, leave an overhang of despair and frustration that often obscures that meaningfulness and privilege.

The College represents our professional best chance of clearing the view. Together as an organization, much has been accomplished. MKSAP 15, patient-centered medical home pilots, the Medical Home Builder, and health information technology initiatives are but some of the products, programs and services that we have achieved in the past year. For many who are reading this article, you are about to enjoy one of the finest ever continuing medical education programs for internists, Internal Medicine 2010.

In this seemingly endless season of perfect storms, the College most importantly is our anchor to professionalism. This is not new. The College has been engaged in this role since its inception in 1915. With the College's guidance and help, we have been able to preserve and enhance the relevancy of our unchanging traditions and standards of professionalism in these changing times. The demonstration of professionalism, more than any financial outlay or political lobbying, is our best hope of securing and maintaining the trust of society in caring for our patients as internists.

Perhaps, no single event demonstrates the power of the College's professional, policy-driven approach than its positive influence on the successful passage of this year's comprehensive health care reform legislation. This was a truly historic and remarkable achievement that begins to move us toward a system of care in which the practice of medicine can be more meaningful and satisfying.

To maintain the compass for that journey, we have a tremendous group of trustworthy, talented, and totally committed members serving on the Board of Regents, Board of Governors, committees and councils. The new leadership of this team, Fred Ralston, FACP, incoming president of the College; Robin Luke, MACP, chair of the Board of Regents; Dennis Schaberg, MACP, treasurer; and Charles Cutler, FACP, chair of the Board of Governors, all have both the experience and leadership necessary to carry the College forward into the future while preserving its tradition and mission of fostering excellence.

We continue to have the great fortune of a staff in both Philadelphia and Washington that is of unparalleled excellence and dedication in implementing and accomplishing the strategic directions of the College. The man responsible for assembling and overseeing this Dream Team is John Tooker, FACP, MBA. It has been an unforgettable honor and experience for those of us who have had the opportunity of working with John over these past eight years. He is a person who has it all: integrity, compassion, intellect, leadership and dedication. He has truly set a high bar for the position of executive vice president and chief executive officer of the College, and will be sorely missed when he retires later this year. Nothing will be more important or more challenging in the coming months than to find a successor of equal stature to steer the College into the future.

It has truly been a privilege for me to serve as your president this past year. As an internist, I have certainly experienced the joy of healing those who have sought my help, but in the College, I have experienced the joy of the camaraderie that exists in being among those healers.