Thanks to the support of Benjamin Rush Institute and The Physicians Foundation, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Western Health Care Leadership Academy Conference (WHCLA) in San Diego, CA. This was undoubtedly one of the most enriching experiences of my first year of medical school and a perfect way to cap off the year. The conference attendees ranged from leaders in health policy, large national health care systems and insurance companies, award-winning authors, politicians, TV and Radio hosts, to physicians from all specialties and current medical students like myself. One of the best aspects of this conference, in addition to the exposure to the viewpoints from the diverse array of stakeholders, was the dedicated “Student and Resident Future Leaders” track targeted particularly for current med students and residents, which emphasized business skills, advocacy, and leadership while in medical school.
The Student/Resident breakout sessions were invaluable. Before attending the conference, I had very limited knowledge about what as a medical student I could do in terms of advocating and generating change. Dr. Bob Hertzka, BRI board member, former CMA president, and chair of AMA’s political action committee (among many other accolades) opened my eyes to my potential role in the political process of healthcare, and most importantly, that it can begin now. I left inspired to take the future of my profession in my own hands and look forward to learning more from him and the student leaders I met through that panel.
“Conferences like WHCLA are invaluable for introducing medical students to leadership positions, not to mention potential mentors, all of which helps develop our potential in the larger picture of the healthcare system. As millennials, more than ever we desire agency in our careers.”
~Kathryn Bennett, medical student, UC-Irvine School of Medicine
The WHCLA conference took place during an opportune time, commencing on the day after the House passed the measure to repeal the ACA. The information I learned throughout the conference was both thorough and digestible. I was exposed to a balanced representation from both sides of the discussion, most notably through the debate around health care policy with Paul Begala and Hugh Hewitt. They had a passionate, articulate and good-natured discussion covering issues including how to replace funding for Medicaid, how to help individuals who are too wealthy to qualify yet, lacking an employer plan, cannot afford it, in addition to addressing coverage for preexisting conditions, invoking cost sharing pools and single payer systems.
Finally, the keynote speaker Dr. Abraham Verghese, conveyed a powerful message stressing the obligation for doctors to study outside of medicine when considering their patients. Through a number of historical scenes from his book, Cutting for Stone, in addition to more recent personal anecdotes, he addressed the importance of bedside manners and caring for the human condition. In sum, he encouraged physicians to build compassion and not forget the humanity of the patient, instead of only focusing on his disease. It was encouraging to hear the patient’s or family’s feelings discussed at length during a medical conference—a subject of rare appearance thus far in my medical career.
While in medical school it is easy to become siloed in studying for exam after exam and lose sight of the goal we are working toward, tirelessly striving to build the intellectual foundation we will need to treat our patients. But our careers will be so much more than the individual interactions we have with our patients. Most physicians will work in teams and eventually lead teams. Furthermore, most of us will be involved in committees that will direct policy, patient safety, operations, and healthcare outcomes at a high level. Conferences like WHCLA are invaluable for introducing medical students to leadership positions, not to mention potential mentors, all of which helps develop our potential in the larger picture of the healthcare system. As millennials, more than ever we desire agency in our careers. Taking time out to experience dedicated lectures on leadership and opportunities to network with great leaders from diverse perspectives not only provides the path to making the moves toward future success and career fulfillment, but also grows personal awareness around the policies that will affect our profession.