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A Family Medicine Leader: What It Is, What It Takes

What is a leader? What is a family medicine leader? Giving a clear and concise answer to these questions have been a challenge for me as I have taken on different leadership tasks and positions.

I can’t believe that it was 10 years ago when I gave my first speech in seeking national office for my professional organization. I was in the final year of my residency, and my colleagues had to convince me to “just give it a go.”

I had done a bunch of stuff on the state level. But, I didn’t feel my game was ready for “prime time” -– meaning being on a national stage. I remember that speech like it was yesterday. My heart still pounds and my hands still get sweaty thinking about it. At the time, it was the most stressful couple of minutes of my life.

I thought it was quite an accomplishment just to get through that speech. When I learned later that I was in fact elected, I knew that moment changed my leadership life forever. I was able to overcome the fears of failure and embarrassment to have that turning point open the door for many leadership positions which unfolded over the past decade.

Probably the highlight of this recent course was being the 2007 chair of the meeting that was just completed here in Kansas City –- the AAFP National Conference of Special Constituencies (NCSC). At the time, the meeting was only in its 17th edition –- so having the title “Chair” of the meeting was definitely an exclusive club.

This year’s NCSC was a different experience for me in that I was “just” a participant and not involved at all in the planning or on the leadership team –- a kind of outsider looking in. I even tried to run for another national office, but this time I was unsuccessful. For the next few hours, I kept asking myself: “Was I a failure?”

Something very interesting happened after that. More than a few people came up to me and said, “I’m sorry you lost your election, but since you’ve had a lot of experience at this meeting, I need some advice on an issue.”

It was at that moment when a light bulb went off in my head. Leadership is about making a positive connection with a person AND empowering the person to help them reach their leadership potential. This is what drives me to do what I do, as opposed to obtaining more leadership titles and winning elections.

So, as I put this meeting behind me, I know that the work that I did will not be posted to any kind of website (except mine, of course). But, I do have a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing that I made a difference. And, that’s all I need.

For my family medicine friends who read this post, I encourage you to share your answers to the question: “What is a family medicine leader?” It is through sharing our experiences where we can be better advocates for our specialty and for our patients.

*This blog post was originally published at Doctor Anonymous*

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