PAMED President: Putting Others Ahead of Self Still a Hallmark of the Noblest Profession

Last Updated: Oct 24, 2016

Note: Guest blogger Charles Cutler, MD, an internal medicine physician from Montgomery County (Pa.), became President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) on Oct. 22, 2016, in Hershey Pa. Below is part of his inaugural address.

We physicians are always cautious about forecasting the future. But let me make two predictions to our medical students that I think they can count on.

Charles-Cutler-MDFirst, you are embarking on a career that you will never regret. And second, the day will come when you agree with me that you are a member of a divine profession.

Justice Louis Brandeis noted that a profession must meet three criteria.

  1. A profession is an occupation for which the necessary preliminary training is intellectual in character, involving knowledge and to some extent learning, as distinguished from mere skill.
  2. It is an occupation which is pursued largely for others and not merely for one's self.
  3. It is an occupation in which the amount of financial return is not the accepted measure of success.

All of you now are involved in the first aspect: training, gaining knowledge, and learning. As your yearly tuition bills arrive in your inbox, certainly the third aspect: the relatively limited financial return given the extent of debt and time put in, has now become a reality.

But consider for a moment, the second aspect of a profession … pursuit of an occupation largely for others and not merely for yourself. I can tell you with certainty that that is the common bond of the doctors sitting on this stage behind me, the board members of the medical society, and the members of the House of Delegates.

It is the reason we came here today. And it is the reason the HOD has been meeting for more than 100 years.

Let me remind you of the mission of PAMED: "advancing quality patient care, the ethical practice of medicine, and advocating for the patients [we] serve."

And then consider our activities this year:

  • Reducing opioid abuse
  • Eliminating child abuse
  • Expanding access to care
  • Evidence-based use of medical marijuana
  • Patent safety through team-based care

None of these endeavors will increase our personal wealth. None will allow us to drive a bigger car, take a longer vacation, or retire one day sooner.

But these successes allow our patients to live better lives. These successes fulfill the mission of the medical society. And they allow us to say without hesitation that we are members of a divine and noble profession.

I would remind all of you that the word profession comes from the Latin, profiteri meaning to affirm openly. To our medical students:  When you graduate medical school, many of you will make such an affirmation as your graduating class recites the Hippocratic Oath.

But there are many other ways you can affirm your oath to the profession.

You can do it through the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Do not let your interest in the medical society fade as you enter your residency and afterwards as you begin your career. By joining the medical society and staying active you have the opportunity to create health policy that betters our patients' lives.

Attending this meeting, allows hours of continued medical education. Not dry topics, but look at what was covered in the past 30 hours. Managing pain, succeeding with MACRA, physician-led, team-based care models, evaluating scientific research. You will leave here, better prepared to aid the patients that seek your help.

I urge all of our students to also involve yourselves with your county medical society, where again you can meet other likeminded individuals. Where you can discuss common problems and learn from their approach. You will be renewed and refreshed. And you will walk away a better doctor.

I urge you to volunteer for committee work here at the medical society and more importantly back home with your county society.

And finally I urge our students to take advantage of the mentorship and collective wisdom of the people in this room. Later this year, or maybe next year, as you begin to consider what professional direction you want to take, call someone on the medical society board or someone you met here at the HOD.

Ask for an hour of their time to hear about their career and get their advice. Meet them for lunch (I assure you, they will pick up the check). Listen as they explain what they did right and what challenges they faced over their career. It may be the most valuable 60 minutes of your medical school years.

Let me finish with a quote from the noted British surgeon and author Stephen Paget who referred to medicine as a divine vocation. More than 100 years ago, he wrote:

"Every year, young people enter the medical profession…often without money, perhaps without prospects, they fight their way into practice, and in practice ; they find it…hard work, ill-thanked, ill-paid.  There are times when they say, 'What call had I to be a doctor?'  I could have done better for myself and my family in some other calling. But they stick to it, and not only from necessity, but from pride, honor, [and] conviction."

"Sooner or later Heaven lets them know what it thinks of them. The information comes quite as a surprise to them … that they were indeed called to be doctors; they think … surely, a diploma, obtained by a test examination and hard cash, and signed by earthly examiners, cannot be a summons from Heaven. But it may be. For, if a doctor's life is not a divine vocation, then no life is a vocation, and nothing is divine."

The members the Pennsylvania Medical Society are here today as guardians of that divine vocation. And as such we all are dedicated to do what is right. Whether or not it is comfortable, whether or not it is easy; whether or not it is popular.

Dr. Paget, you can rest well tonight. Your divine vocation is in good hands. The members of this House of Delegates are guarding it well.

We will live up to our mission, and we will adhere to our professionalism. And through the PAMED Alliance and the presence of the medical students here tonight, we have begun to entrust that divine vocation to the next generation.

To all the physicians here tonight, may the 167th year of the medical society see your professional goals achieved. And may the citizens of Pennsylvania live longer, healthier, and more productive lives because of the work of all of you.

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