A New Year’s Resolution That Matters

brainstormsBy Joanne Conroy, MD

Admit it: You made one or more New Year’s resolutions. Many of you committed to losing weight, working out more, and organizing your life. Any resolution that makes you healthier and happier is great. But have you ever thought about making a resolution that isn’t about you, but about someone else? This year, resolve to create positive impact for those around you.

That doesn’t mean you have to pick up and travel to another country to serve the poor—although a remarkable number of you do that. Every year close to a third of entering medical students aspire to deliver care in underdeveloped countries; medical schools and other organizations facilitate travel abroad for thousands of physicians to do just that: Project Hope, Healthcare Volunteers Overseas, Operation Smile, and Doctors without Borders, to name a few. These organizations and many others are worthy of your time. They all do great work, and their efforts to have real collective impact are underappreciated.

One of our colleagues at the AAMC, Dr. Coleen Kivlahan, finds her purpose in providing forensic physical evaluations for victims of torture with Physicians for Human Rights, and trains physicians and law enforcement professionals in Africa and the Middle East to document torture and human rights violations in conflict zones.

Now back to you and your New Year’s resolutions. How about doing something that shifts the context within your life every day?

  • Have you ever tried to be interested instead of interesting?
  • Tried to be a skeptic instead of a cynic?
  • Realized that it is your job, your role, which brings you access, respect, and power?
  • Begun a conversation with someone, not with, “What do you do?” but rather found common ground—a shared passion, concern, interest. That doesn’t happen if you start with a speech about yourself and your career. Ask the right questions. Be a good listener. You’ll be amazed by what you hear.

The key to this kind of New Year’s resolution is that it is not about you, it is about others.

Where to start? You can start here in the United States.

As of today, more than two-thirds of uninsured Americans still don’t know they might be eligible for financial assistance to buy health coverage and therefore haven’t visited the new online marketplaces, according to a survey released Thursday by Enroll America. The survey found that seven out of 10 uninsured people in the United States haven’t visited Healthcare.gov.

We still have a lot of work to do to get people basic coverage. This is one of the ways we can begin to reduce disparities in health. For years, we have communicated through our policies and practice that there are “somebodies” and “nobodies” in terms of health care access. We can resolve to end that this year. There are many vehicles that promote enrollment in the health insurance exchanges—professional, personal, and social networks. We can promote it through tweets, blog posts, newsletter articles, and other activities. As part of your New Year’s resolution, help spread the word about Healthcare.gov and its importance to uninsured Americans. After all, choice and involvement in securing health insurance is an important first step toward ownership and engagement.

If you are still unconvinced, watch the documentary “The Waiting Room.” The directors used their unprecedented access to go behind the doors of Oakland’s Highland Hospital, a safety-net hospital fighting for survival while weathering the storm of a persistent economic downturn. A staff of compassionate professionals provides care to a startlingly diverse population of patients, most of them uninsured, who are visiting their emergency room every day. The film affords an intimate look at how patients, staff, and caregivers cope with disease, bureaucracy, frustration, hope, and hard choices. The film teaches us the importance of what we do, with all of medicine’s expertise, dedication, dignity, and compassion.

For this New Year, resolve to understand: how we lead this life matters… and not just to you.

Dr  Joanne Conroy MD—Joanne Conroy, MD, is chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. Her Brainstorms column appears monthly on Wing of Zock. She can be reached at jconroy@aamc.org. Follow her on Twitter @joanneconroymd.

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