Sunday, August 28, 2011

The flip side in 60 seconds

During our last staff meeting for the Department of Pediatrics at Asian Hospital and Medical Center, a colleague of mine commented that I should probably blog about my being the incoming Chairman for the department. I laughed when she teased me that it would be my "hell" and that it was a most appropriate description for my blog writings. This is my final blog for the month, so let's take it from there.

I take my job or whatever I do seriously. While I may flip flop on a few decisions at the start, I also have a vision for a generation.

And so I blog about this new turn of event in my life and accept with humility the task of being the next "Captain of the Ship".

When I retired from teaching medical students three years ago and went into private practice, I felt a void in my academic career. I missed the grand rounds, the training and drilling of students with the daily cases, the teaching skills and poring over loads of information in pediatrics, pharmacology and infectious diseases. After all, I had been the residency training officer of two hospitals - one government hospital (Ospital ng Maynila) and one teaching hospital (University of Santo Tomas) - in my not too distant past. So teaching and training to me was the core of my daily habit. My decision to retire from teaching was like having to give up coffee at the break of dawn.

When I was asked if I was willing to take the post as the incoming chair, there was an initial hesitation on my part. After all, I had found a new comfort zone. I have come full circle in my career, have been part of the lives of so many successful and great doctors and at my age, life should simply be about preparing for retirement.

Yet a part of me felt that there was a need to make my colleagues realize that the art of medicine is not about myself or how much I make or how many patients I have made better or cured. Coming full circle is about paying it forward.

At that singular moment when I was asked whether I was willing to take this new post, I felt that the next 60 seconds of decision making was moving in very slow motion. It was not the impulsive me that played central role in saying yes. My flip side, the cautious me, was tugging me back.

The 60 seconds saw my previous life pass me by.

All of us at Asian Hospital have come from a great residency training program. We're all board certified and specialty and subspecialty certified. I've always believed in how great this circle of physicians are. We may come from different schools or have trained from different hospitals both here and abroad, but we've learned from the best.

Call it a legacy, but the best of leaders and healers will always pass the torch to the younger colleagues - to teach them and learn from them. It's only by paying it forward that we learn to be appreciated in life and thereafter. Even after we're gone, somewhere in other people's lives, we leave our mark in their lives. My mentors have left a bit of themselves in my life and I am eternally grateful to them for this.

And the 60 seconds ended with the flip of the coin of accepting this daunting yet humbling task.

And so as I begin the new role of leading a great bunch of pediatricians and friends starting next month, I pray that I lead well.

They say that the true mark of a great leader is succession planning. We simply cannot be invisible men living our own lives. We owe it to our great teachers and mentors to continue the task of passing the torch.

The decision at the flip of the coin was probably a challenge to see "hell" as my colleague said.

All I can say, "I've been to hell and back. But with everyone's help, this new task may just be purgatory. Who knows, if we all pitch in together, we might all get a glimpse of heaven in the end."

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