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Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work
This can be quite an adjustment for three teen-aged girls and an independent spouse used to not depending on “the captain” for decisions or everyday running of the house. It certainly is an adjustment for the captain, when the realization hits home that good decisions and maintenance are not enough to safely ply the waters by sail. It takes a willing and competent crew, working together, to actually operate the sailboat.
As the captain, I know this sailboat. I know its systems, electronics, engine, sails, sounds, needs, wants and desires. I know what needs to be done to get the sailboat safely wherever we want to take it, and my family respects this. The trap I often fall into is a desire to operate the sailboat by myself without the help of the crew. After all, I know better than anybody on board what needs to be done and how it should be done (Does this sound familiar, federal physicians?). The outcome of this behavior is usually poor, since doing everything on a cruising sailboat is exhausting and needlessly more difficult for everyone.
In times of stress, such as during the large thunderstorms Family Knot battled on the James River en route to Fort Monroe, VA, this behavior can be downright stupid and dangerous. Life on a sailboat in a storm requires a good captain who has the sense and maturity to rely on the expertise of the crew, so that all can arrive safely in port. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing.”
The safe navigation of our patients through federal medicine is a team effort. Physician and nurse “captains” surely are needed, but their directions are pointless without the coordinated efforts of the entire healthcare team. Like so many of the most important life lessons in both professional and personal activities, this lesson, at least for me, is constantly in need of being relearned.
I am a good captain of Family Knot, but only when I allow my crew to be an equal part of the team that runs her. Federal medicine has good leaders, but only when they see themselves as part and dependent on the larger team working together for excellence in patient care.
It is this commitment to the federal medicine team by individuals that makes federal medicine extraordinary. For me, it is this tradition of being part of a winning federal medicine team, along with my devotion to the individuals of that team, which always keeps me from turning the wheel away from home.
Someday though, when my service is done and new team members are ready, I will set a course for that horizon, content with my time as having been one among many remarkable federal healthcare providers.