A new presidential year calls for new beginnings, and one of the commonest questions asked me is what my theme for my year will be. Whenever I ponder that question, a number of thoughts and ideas flood my mind, each jostling for attention and claiming to be the most important and pressing matter of our time.
To reach the present, one needs to reflect on the journey that got one here. As I reflect on my own journey to this point, it still seems improbable, if not impossible. As probably (and questionably) the first international medical graduate (IMG) to have taken over as President of the most preeminent internal medicine organization in the U.S. (and arguably the world, albeit with bias, I admit), I immediately tempered any sense of accomplishment with the reality that it was the confluence of a series of factors that led to this happening (with any personal accomplishment being at the bottom of that hierarchy).
While I became involved with the College right from the day I started (restarted) residency in the U.S., the first step to leadership was my involvement in the Governor's Advisory Council in the Massachusetts Chapter. With continued service, I became the treasurer and then was asked to run for Governor for the chapter. Governorship was one of the most professionally fulfilling aspects of the College, allowing me to interact with and learn from some of the best minds from around the globe at Board of Governors (BOG) meetings.
With growing audacity (or impetuousness), I ran for Chair of the BOG, and that opened up another vista of education and experience on the Board of Regents (BOR), as well as the opportunity to channel and motivate a superb list of “Who's Who,” the intelligentsia in medicine and leadership. My spot on the BOR might have been the culmination of a seemingly improbable journey, but continued audacity and the encouragement of others led to offering myself for consideration for leadership as an Officer of the College.
In my mind, the underlying theme that runs through this journey (hopefully not the end but just the beginning) is that the College (Officers, Regents, Governors, staff, and the membership) is willing to accept people based on their potential rather than stereotypical descriptions. Additionally, it struck me that the College wanted its leadership to mirror its membership, to be representative and inclusive rather than exclusive.
My musings brought me to the dawning realization that the College had become a leader in the world of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) or, as our esteemed and dynamic Executive Vice President and CEO Darilyn V. Moyer, MD, FACP, would describe it, JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion). These principles have become the underlying foundation of every action the College takes, be it in selecting its representatives, determining membership on committees, and entertaining opinions, perspectives, and diversity of thought.
While it is tempting to feel a sense of accomplishment, as an organization, at having been a pioneer in highlighting the need for JEDI perspectives underpinning our actions, there is that gnawing feeling within that more needs to be done. We are most sensitized to the concept of diversity. Indeed, it is probably the most obvious of the JEDI attributes. Additionally, the College has been vocal about justice and equity through its singular series of papers outlining its New Vision for the U.S. Health Care System.
I was left wondering if we have been as inclusive as we would like to be and if there was more to do to get us to that crowning point of satisfaction. I thus landed on that “Eureka” moment where I felt that this year, we need to focus on inclusion or inclusivity to complete the concept of truly being a JEDI organization.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers many synonyms for the terms “inclusion” or “inclusivity,” such as all-embracing, all-in, all-inclusive, broad-gauge, compendious, complete, comprehensive, cover-all, cyclopedic, embracive, encyclopedic, exhaustive, full, global, in-depth, omnibus, panoramic, thorough, universal, etc.
In 2016, as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, diversity and inclusion expert Vernā Myers, founder and president of the Vernā Myers Company and leader of a popular TED Talk on overcoming bias, told the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association that those who want to overcome prejudice must begin to identify their unconscious biases and try to rewire their brains to think more inclusively. She is quoted as saying, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
This is our challenge as we start this year. As your new team of leaders, we have the task of taking the baton in this relay and running the next leg to the best of our ability and with all our might. Our esteemed colleagues, Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, MACP, and Heather E. Gantzer, MD, MACP, along with William (Bill) E. Fox, MD, FACP, have led the College with distinction and have raised the bar to almost unattainable heights with their leadership, willingness to listen, empathy, and wisdom in decision making.
Fortunately, I don't need to wing it solo in this race. As Chair of the Board of Regents, Thomas (Tom) G. Cooney, MD, MACP, could be described with all the words provided above (all-embracing, comprehensive, encyclopedic, global, etc.) and will be there to still the waters and chart the course along with the prudent and financially wise Gregory (Greg) C. Kane, MD, MACP, as our Treasurer and Rebecca A. Andrews, MD, FACP, as our Chair of the Board of Governors. We have an astounding wealth of talent in our staff leadership under the able stewardship of Dr. Moyer and Wayne Bylsma, PhD.
We have all been invited to the party. I hope we will have a chance to dance together and take our College to further heights. The alternative is not viable, hence my tongue-in-cheek headline. In a paper published Oct. 27, 2020, by Annals of Internal Medicine, where the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents outlined the 2020 presidential candidates' health care platforms and the College's vision of where health care should be, we ended with the quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from “A Psalm of Life.”
We hope that we, as your new leadership team, will be able to move the proverbial ball farther down the field. To that end, we remain available to constructive feedback and ideas that might move us collectively forward.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Finds us farther than today.