A Sense of Purpose
Posted on January 15, 2009
Military medicine provided Jeannette South-Paul (bio) an opportunity to makes changes at the global level.
I think that when you come into any academic career, or you come into medicine, the general way in which you are nurtured is not necessarily for a career path, but rather to help you attain knowledge for use on a daily basis. So in medical school, you know the goal was quality patient care. And so you learn how to do that one, you learn to excel in the one-on-one relationship and the management of conditions for that one individual patient.
And to me, I loved that and I still love that. I'm still a practicing clinician, I still deliver babies, I still have my own panel of patients and to me that warms my heart. That gives me a sense of purpose. But what you realize over time, as we start developing more gray hairs, is that changing the world one person at a time takes a long time. And you need to be able to be active, not only at that level because it grounds you in what is important on the individual level, but you need to meet people in an environment where a potentially could change things on a population basis.
And so for me, I had the opportunity to start my career in an organized medical environment and lot of things people don't recognize is military medicine is organized. It's very structured. There are people who know exactly what is going on in many aspects of the enterprise and we get together on a regular basis to discuss these things. And that type of forum, I actually didn't see taking place in the civilian sector.
And because I learned early on to be active in my organization, as I ultimately became President of the Uniformed Services Academy of Family Physicians, which is kind of unusual. The first woman, first minority president of the group of men. And of course, we actually have many more women now but I mean, when you get to be in charge of a chapter of over 2,000 active duty military officers.
You have an opportunity to see what is happening all over the globe. And you get to see the best and the brightest, and I actually had a wonderful opportunity a few weeks ago to see one of my earliest mentees installed as a President-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
It's exciting for me because, first of all, it emphasized the importance of mentorship early on with people early in their careers. It demonstrates that those of us who started our careers in uniform can continue to serve and influence important aspects of our society and of healthcare long after we take off the uniform. And it also made me realize that we have important things that we have to do on a daily basis.
Excerpted from interview with researcher at the 2008 Leadership Training Institute in Bethesda, MD.
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