A Season For Change

September ushers in a new breathtaking season where the heat of summer gives way to the mesmerizing colors of fall. It is easy to drive through wooded areas like the Natchez Trace and find yourself surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colors. Orange, gold, red, and brown have replaced the deep greenery of many tree leaves, bushes and other foliage. Even as nature has experienced change, the dawning of fall means competitive tennis league matches are front and center in the minds of many, who eagerly watch the moves of new winners like Carlos Alcaraz in the US Open. At the same time, some of these mentally file away the “old pros” like Serena Williams, who broke the mold for competitive tennis. Fall also signals that it’s time for football season, where the competition is fierce and emotions are high. It’s a time where we root for our children, friends, college teams and professional football teams.  We often have mixed emotions: excited to see newcomers to the professional teams; yet, clinging to the old experts in the National Football League (NFL).  

As I watched the end of Sunday night’s first football game of the season on September 11, I noticed something striking as I passed the large television screen holding my husband’s full attention. Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, had done it again. The team’s score was a solid 19 to 3 win for Tampa Bay against the Cowboys. Brady wore a helmet that stood out from the rest of the team: “Inspire change.” This was inscribed on the back of his helmet!  The saying was definitely worth thinking about. Change, while sometimes painful, is necessary in the football arena and in life overall. Despite the Cowboys’ loss, many players were glad to have played against Brady and had no problems shaking hands with a respected competitor as they left the field.

Closer to home, we recently had a leadership change.  Our new Chair of Medicine, Dr. Michael Hall, is one of the youngest chairs of the Department of Medicine. We are delighted to have him as our leader.  When Dr. Hall returned from his imaging (Cardiac MRI) fellowship, he jumped right in to lend a hand to those from different states and countries in our fellowship. He invited a diverse group of fellows to his home without thought. He was intentional when asking Dr. Nchang Taka, (from Cameroon) to Thanksgiving dinner. His family was not in Mississippi; so, Dr. Hall invited Dr. Taka and other foreign medical graduates to his home. Being intentional in inviting diverse applicants to our institution is as important as welcoming patients of diverse backgrounds to benefit from our services. 

Athletes spend years practicing on and off the field or on tennis courts in order to shine and perform for a few hours. College and graduate students go to great lengths to put their best foot forward as they apply for medical school. M4s are making big decisions regarding their career options and the locations where they want to live for the next three years or maybe a lifetime.

This medical interview season is tantamount to an athlete’s moments to shine. While studying and test-taking are routine activities for medical students, responding confidently to questions asked during interviews is not. The best results will come from doing the RIGHT thing this interview season.

R Remember to review the applicant’s entire profile prior to the interview and take notes.

I Be Intentional in choosing an applicant with good metrics but also someone whose background is a good fit with our patient population. This means being intentionally diverse and inclusive in choosing candidates.

G Be Grateful for the opportunity to speak with an applicant.  Encourage the applicant, even if he/she is not the right person for our program.

H Hills were climbed to get the applicant and interviewer to the session.  Your short interview may impact the person’s decision to join our team of excellence.

T Thank you for your time invested in this process of choosing the best applicant.

This fall interview season accentuates our desire for “inspiring change” that produces excellence in medicine, regardless of the situation. A hostile patient, unpleasant and uncooperative nurse or colleague, or someone having a bad day should never overshadow our reason(s) for pursuing excellence in medicine. Serena Williams and Tom Brady remind us that excellence is not handed to us but results from hard work: the only path to a real return on investment.

I had the opportunity to go to the US Open this year. What a magnificent place to visit, even for a seasoned novice player. Serena and Venus Williams enthusiastically broke many barriers during their careers in a predominately white male sport. Their love for the sport was the impetus that kept them playing the sport for decades, sometimes even in hostile environments. We would do well to take note of them as good role models for us in medicine.  

Dr. Myrna Alexander Nickens is a Professor of Cardiology and the Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion for the Department of Medicine.

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