Use Your Specialty to Make a Difference in 2012

January 9, 2012

If this is the last year you are alive, would you do what you are about to do? If not, make some changes.

What is your resolution for the New Year? The end of one year is a symbolic change from the old to the new. Let's clear out, examine things with a fresh perspective, keep the things that make sense and change the things that don't. In Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 he said:

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

Do you need to change something in your life? Let's use the New Year as an opportunity to think about what those things can be. I like the framework of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which helps me understand myself and others. You are likely familiar with the hierarchy; it states that humans start with the most basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, breathing. As those needs are met, we pursue additional needs, such as our safety then love/belonging, esteem and then culminating at self-actualization.

If we take Steve Jobs' advice to examine our lives we may find certain aspects that we are missing. There are many professionals I have talked with who are looking to do something more. They are respected in their careers and families and are part of organizations. What they are looking for in the self-actualization piece. They want to make a difference in the world. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that motivated you to medicine. But I still think that there is more that we can do. Not just for us but for the world.

As a professional, one thing that is important to me is to be able to contribute based on my skill set. There are organizations that are beginning to help match skills to nonprofits, such as Catchafire. As a polymath I also want to learn something new from the experience.

In radiology I think that an organization like Mass General Imaging's Global Health Programs can help serve as inspiration. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), two-thirds of the global population lacks access to diagnostic imaging care. MGH is dedicated to addressing unmet medical imaging needs and healthcare disparities for vulnerable and crisis-affected populations.

One of the group's longest ongoing projects related to overcoming this challenge has been providing teleradiology services for Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. While this hospital houses some of the latest imaging equipment, its staff is limited and has little access to formal radiology training. Using technology such as a film digitizer or even their personal smartphones, Rwandan caregivers send images to MGH radiologists, who provide at least one teleradiology consultation a day. The number of consultations continues to grow through new collaborations.

I reached out to Garry Choy, MD, at Mass General for an example of an impact that they were able to make:

"We have a case of an emergent abdominal radiograph sent for teleradiology. We responded in less than 30 minutes. Case was from Rwanda, Africa. Patient was then transferred to nearest tertiary care center… surgeons found perforated small bowel obstruction from tumor. The local physicians did not diagnose/see the massive amount of free air in the abdomen that was indicative of small bowel perforation."

I challenge you to make 2012 a great year. Ask yourself, "If this is the last year that you are alive, would you do what you are about to do?" If not, make some changes. Use your specialty to make a difference, like MGH, somewhere in the world. Use your experience and conscience to influence politics. 2012 will be an interesting year in American politics. Mentor someone. Help a startup. Start a company. Get involved. Make a difference.

David Fuhriman is Managing Partner at Bern Medical, where he analyzes radiology data to discover under-billings. He is involved in high tech-startups in San Diego and in helping technology improve our world. He can be reached at David@BernMedical.com.