President of The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation speaks at GHHS 2017 National Conference

The Arnold P. Gold foundation recently held its Gold Humanism Honor Society 2017 National Conference on Cultivating Resiliency Through Humanism and Community. We were honored to have the President of The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, Dr. George Thibault, attend and speak at our National Conference. The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation is the only national foundation solely dedicated to improving the education of health professionals.

Dr. Thibault left us with remarks of hope and optimism stating that “even during these stressful times, we have much to be thankful for… we have a unique opportunity to touch the lives of other human beings and to help them.” Please see below for Dr. Thibault’s speech.

            I am honored to speak to you tonight as a lifetime member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, as a Board member of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, and as the President of a Foundation that supports the work of the Gold Foundation. But more importantly, I speak to you as a career medical educator who began his academic career as a philosophy major and who deeply appreciates the humanistic roots of our profession.

            We are at a critical moment in our profession as we are being challenged to preserve these humanistic roots.  In spite of a lot of work over the recent decades by educators and humanists (many of whom are represented at this meeting) to try to restore the appropriate balance in medicine – the balance between technology and touch, the balance between the corporate and the human, the balance between the science and the art of medicine – the counter forces to this balance are stronger than ever.  At a recent Board meeting, I said that if the Gold Foundation had not been created 30 years ago we would need to create it now.  Thanks to the wisdom of Arnold and Sandra Gold, the Gold Foundation was created.  And thanks to your wisdom and that of your predecessors, the Gold Humanism Honor Society was created more than a decade ago.  I see this organization as the “boots on the ground” – those who are living and acting on the humanistic values; being role models, influencers and change agents.  I am told for the first time this meeting includes some who are not yet members, but share the values – and this is how the circle will be enlarged and the impact will be enhanced.  We need more allies and we need to actively recruit them.

            The theme of this meeting – Cultivating Resiliency though Humanism and Community – is particularly timely and resonates with me.  The reported rate of burnout and clinical depression among physicians has reached an alarming level.  And it is particularly alarming among our students and trainees. We know that they start, their medical journey with a higher state of mental health and idealism than their peers, but they become less healthy and less idealistic during the process of becoming a physician – what a sad commentary on what we are doing.  And this is why resiliency is important.

            “Resiliency” speaks to the ability to bounce back – to recover – in the face of adversity.

           I would posit that an essential factor in resilience is purpose – believing that what you are doing is important and that you are making a difference so that you can withstand disappointment and rise above obstacles.  This is where humanism and resilience come together.  Humanism gives purpose to what we do.  We are not just technicians performing procedures, we are not just informaticians checking boxes on the computer, we are not just employees following protocols, we are not just filling a shift in the schedule.  We are healers, touching the lives of human beings at their most vulnerable moments, in the most personal and privileged way.  Recognizing the specialness of each human being we touch should be the greatest source of our satisfaction.  This is what gives us purpose.  This is what makes being a physician a calling and not a job. And this is what we together need to find preserve – and nurture for ourselves and for our colleagues.  And this is what you will be doing together at this meeting and when you return home.

            I want to touch on four points that I think will be important if we are to succeed in this endeavor of cultivating resiliency through humanism.

            First, we cannot do this alone.  Providing humanistic, compassionate care is not the sole domain of physicians.  In fact, physicians alone are not capable of doing it. We can only do it by working in true partnership with nursing and the other health professions.  Not one of us has the skills to meet all of our patients’ needs and not one of us is in possession of all the information about our patients and the context of their illnesses.  We are incomplete.  We need the team to fulfill our calling.  Similarly, we are not alone in needing to be resilient and wanting to find joy in our work.  The same is true of our other professional colleagues.  And there is a growing body of evidence that the path to joy in practice is through teamwork.  We need to devote ourselves to learning about, from and with our colleagues in the other health professions.

            Second, achieving both the humanistic and resilience goals require action.  We cannot be passive, we cannot be victims of a “system” that we think is structured against us.  We must be advocates to change those things that prevent humanistic, compassionate care.  We must be advocates to change those things that are counter to our professional values.  That means we need to work to make our organizations more humanistic and more aligned with our professional values.

            Third, the title of the conference includes “community”.  That can mean us as a community of physicians, or as I have suggested a community of health professionals.  But I think we need even a broader definition of community.   We need to engage our patients and their families in honest discussions about the challenges we face.  We need to partner with them – not only about their own care – but also about ways to improve our educational and delivery systems to better meet their needs.  They can help us be more humanistic and resilient.

            Finally, I believe education is a key element in accomplishing these goals.  I am encouraged by the changes in medical education I have seen and participated in in the past decade – but we still have a long way to go.  We can and must produce the next generation of physicians who are not only well grounded in the scientific basis of medicine but who are also empathetic communicators and exemplary team members.  We can teach and model compassionate, collaborative care.  We can teach and model advocacy and systems improvement.  We can teach and model coping skills and resiliency.  And we can create environments for learning that are supportive of the health and well-being of our learners.

            This is the work that you are all committed to and I feel privileged to be one of you and part of this effort.  And part of what sustains us in this work is the pleasure of being among kindred spirits. That is what the Gold Humanism Honor Society enables us to do– so we must enjoy every minute of this experience.

            We are all very fortunate to be a part of this noble, caring profession.  Even in these stressful times, we must remember we have much to be thankful for.  We have unique opportunities to touch the lives of other human beings and to help them.  We have unique opportunities to work with other professional colleagues in fulfilling endeavors.  And we have unique opportunities to make our part of the world a better place.

            I want to propose a toast to all of you and to the Gold Humanism Society to: “The Heart of the Community of Caring”.

George E. Thibault, MD

President, The Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation