The BCMA President’s Incoming Speech
-Bernita C. Taylor, M.D.
Good evening colleagues, family and friends.
Last year I was seeing patients as usual at my Catonsville medical office, when a women asked me why I become a physician, and why family medicine? I’ve been asked this question many times over my almost 30 years in practice, and I always give the same answer. I confess my love of TV and film and admit that all of those episodes of “Marcus Welby” that I enjoyed while growing up likely influenced my career choice.
I’ve grown accustomed to a certain response to my answer–a knowing smile, maybe a little chuckle–but this time my patient’s response was “Who’s Marcus Welby?”
I was startled by her question. I had just given the answer that had worked fine for thirty years. Further explanation had never been required. I then considered our circumstances and realized that I had just pitched a baby boomer pop culture reference to a millennial. I attempted to salvage the conversation by explaining that “Marcus Welby MD” was a 1970s TV show about the consummate family physician, an ideal to which I aspire. My patient nodded and smiled politely but it was clear my remarks held no meaning for her. She lacked the framework necessary to appreciate my perspective.
If I’d had more time I would have told her that “Marcus Welby MD” was a popular family medical drama that aired from 1969-1976 and starred Robert Young of “Father Knows Best” fame in the title role I would have told her that his character represented the ideal family physician; a dedicated doctor who practiced comprehensive and compassionate care to his patients for a lifetime-cradle to grave. I would have told her about Dr. Welby’s protégé, young Dr. Steve Kiley. His character was portrayed by actor James Brolin. Dressed in trendy 70’s attire and riding his motorcycle—always while wearing his helmet— Dr. Kiley was medicine of the next generation. His character’s role was to lead the audience on the adventure as medicine entered the future.
It was however a future plagued by uncertainty largely due to the complex socioeconomic issues facing America. At that time America was involved in an unpopular foreign war. Returning veterans were in need of services. Air and water pollution threatened our communities. The war on drugs was losing. Our health care system was overly complex and flawed, leaving some patients uninsured or underinsured. Racial and ethnic tensions were on the rise. Women were fighting for economic and reproductive freedoms.
Each week “Marcus Welby MD” explored different aspect of healthcare in America and I watched while my heroes delivered superior care to their patients against all odds. I now recognize that one of the strengths of the show was its depiction of the relationship between the rwo doctors. Theirs was a professional partnership based on mutual respect. Dr. Welby respected Dr. Kiley’s intelligence and innovation. Dr. Kiley respected Dr. Welby’s skill and wisdom honed by years of clinical practice. Though they did not always agree on the best way to handle the challenges that came their way, they worked together, compromised when necessary, and got the job done.
Well it’s been 41 years since Marcus and Steve graced the airways. America still has the same problems plus some new challenges. Chaos and confusion surround us. The future of healthcare in America has never been more uncertain than it is right now. I’ve learned that unlike TV docs real-life physicians aren’t issued tidy little scripts with built-in happy endings. We have to create our own happy endings. I’m just thankful that I don’t have to do it all alone. Fortunately, I belong to a strong medical association.
The Baltimore County Medical Association in concert with its parent MedChi is fighting for me and for my patients every day. In an environment where it is increasingly difficult for practicing physicians, my association continues to protect the standard of care, to provide educational programs on health topics, information systems and practice management . It enlists lobbyists to champion our cause at the legislative level. With all of the benefits of membership and knowing that a large membership can only strengthen our lobbying efforts, I would expect all physicians to want to join their medical association. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many of my colleagues see no value in joining while others join and allow the membership to lapse over time.
I did warn all of you earlier of my love of film. Though, I fear psychiatrists in the audience might select obsession as a more accurate term. I love it all –the music, the costumes, the special effects, the iconic characters who speak lines that become immortalized through American pop culture. So, it should come as no surprise that my failed conversation with my patient and my failed conversations with colleagues regarding medical association membership would remind me of a line from a movie….a 1967 film starring Paul Newman entitled ” Cool Hand Luke”. The line from that film that is apropos is “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”.
Just as I can no longer assume that my patients will recognize and identify with my obscure references to a beloved 1970s TV show, I can no longer assume that the communication styles and message content that speak to me will resonate with today’s physicians. BCMA also needs to bridge the communication gap to find new answers to the old questions. I propose that over the next year BCMA make improved communication across our organization a goal. We need to make certain that current members understand the importance of their membership, the benefits and services available to them and how to gain access. New pathways of outreach to potential members need to be explored.
To my fellow BCMA members, our motto is “Physicians working together for a healthy community”. I congratulate each of you. Your membership in itself is tangible evidence of your dedication to your patients, your community and your fellow Baltimore County Physicians. The membership is the core of any organization. For the BCMA’s mission of increasing membership to succeed, your participation is crucial. Communication is a 2-way street. We need your suggestions and your feedback. We need you to encourage your colleagues to stand with you as members. And if any of you have considered becoming more involved in the formal committee structure of BCMA and MedChi, now is the time to act. We need to work together and get the job done.
In conclusion, I will look forward to our enhanced communication over the next year. And as always—-May the force is with you!