Leading By Example: Choosing Priorities Over Politics

By John H. McCord, DPM

I avoided the politics of podiatry for most of the first 20 years of practice. I considered all the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) stuff that went on in Washington, D.C. a waste of time and money although I have been a card-carrying member since 1975.    I got my first taste of leadership in our profession in 1993 when I became a member of the Washington Podiatric Medical Licensing Board. The work was challenging and fulfilling.    I was asked at the last minute to replace the licensing board chairman at a roundtable discussion of the Federation of Podiatric Medical Boards annual meeting in Seattle. When the meeting was about to begin, I learned that I was to lead a 3.5-hour roundtable discussion of the leaders of the state licensing boards. The meeting was to start in 10 minutes. The federation chairman was about to have a heart attack when he learned I had nothing prepared.    I had the federation chairman scribble the 10 most important topics on a napkin. I then asked him to highlight the three most important topics and scratch out the three least important. “I can keep these guys entertained for 3.5 hours,” I smugly announced.    The session went fast. I would get board chairpeople from several different states screaming at each other, steer them into a loose agreement and blast onto another topic. Mostly, I had no idea what we were talking about. This leadership thing was starting to get fun but I was also getting hungry.    At the end of the 3.5-hour session, the audience was fired up and exhausted at the same time. The federation board was thrilled that the program had been salvaged. I was making a move for the door to head for a French bistro a few blocks away.    The federation chair thanked me for the help and asked if I would have lunch with the board. The taste of foie gras, grilled lamb chops with garlic mashed potatoes and a glass of Cotes-du-Rhone was fading as I contemplated the standard convention lunch fare of really well preserved grilled chicken breast and diet Pepsi.    The board members were nice fellows and made polite conversation. I wondered where all this was going and then they invited me to become a federation board member. It meant a trip to Washington, D.C. and a trip to the Federation of State Medical Boards national meeting each year. I accepted.    After a few years on the federation board and being a liaison to the Joint Committee on Recognition of Specialty Boards as well as the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners, I had become a leader in podiatry.    When I cannot sleep at night, I wonder if my leadership services were worth the amount my fellow podiatrists paid for all the travel and hotel rooms. The positive side is that I worked with a lot of great leaders of our profession. I will always respect them.    I quit all the leadership stuff last year. It is a necessary part of running a profession but it is not for me. However, I did fulfill my commitment to serve as chairman of our hospital board for the next two years.    To keep my true role in perspective, I let the administrator know that I will leave board meetings if I am paged to attend to a patient or for an emergency consultation. He grinned and said, “Right.” Last week, my pager went off during a very important meeting of the hospital board and the medical staff executive committee.    A nurse on the medical floor was asking if I could see an elderly gentleman who was about to be discharged. I told her I was in a very important meeting and asked if it could wait. She explained that the patient was at the end of his battle with pancreatic cancer and was being discharged home for hospice care. There was nothing more anyone could do for him therapeutically but the nurse asked if there was anything he wanted before he left. He wanted his toenails trimmed. The trip home was going to be his last living journey. There was no chance that he could come to my office.    I hesitated for a few moments. The hospital leadership was making important decisions at this meeting. Then I told the nurse I would be right there.    Twenty minutes later, I entered the boardroom where all the important stuff was going on. The administrator leaned toward me and asked if I was called out for something urgent. I told him, “Yes. Something very urgent.” Dr. McCord is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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