As the present pandemic has renewed the importance of preventive medicine, here is my insight onto why preventive medicine has taken such a setback and what possibly could change that. Everybody has their moment of epiphany one day or another; the moment where they realize healthcare is not just a doctor-patient relationship, but an institution that belongs to each and every human being; the moment they realize the best healthcare is the one where it is not needed. However, even after that, many are stuck in the rhythmic cycle of study, pass, and work; as they lack the leadership from both within and outside to create a change.
LEADERSHIP IN HEALTHCARE EDUCATION: AN ERA TO ENTER
At the inauguration ceremony of my medical college, my director spoke a few words, and the line, “An ideal health care system is one where it is not needed at all,” stood out for me; not because I agreed, but because it confused me. Why would you, being a doctor, not wish for a health care system? You would lose your job!
A few months later, I joined a non-profit organization in my college called SPARSH (Students of PSIMS to Achieve awareness and Reach out to Social and sustainable Health), and it changed my views in more ways than I can count.
As its name suggests, the main motive behind SPARSH was to bring about awareness on social issues, and honestly, I joined out of boredom. The day the reality of what I was doing hit me was when I went to Vijayanagaram, Andhra Pradesh with some of my friends; we were educating children from a government school on menstrual hygiene and breast cancer, as we had been doing previously, but this time when we asked for questions, we were bombarded. Left and right, the questions never stopped, and unfortunately most of them were on the most basic hygiene measures that we followed in our lives without a second thought. It was that day, that I realized how very few people knew about basic health and hygiene. I grew up in a first world society where menstrual education was taught in fifth grade, then I pursued medicine where we are obviously taught about health, I guess I never realized I was living in a bubble; that the things I learnt at 10 years of age were not even spoken of here.
I remember thinking why does this problem even exist, remember thinking of the proportion of diseases that could be prevented if only they had basic education, I remember thinking back to my director’s words and finally understanding them.
I had my epiphany late, but in SPARSH I was surrounded by hundreds of people, be it students or staff, who believed in the same ideology, and together we were educating thousands. Keep in mind, this was a single college’s organization, imagine if every medical college had a group of people like us? We don’t have to imagine much, because I’m pretty sure such people exist, but if they did, why weren’t they out there breaking taboos and spreading health education?
It was because they lacked leadership.
As I entered my third year in SPARSH, I became a defacto senior member, and that’s when I realized what all happens behind those events, messages, and activities. The labor behind motivating fellow colleagues, organizing people and allocating them fields they show both capability and interest in. The difficulty behind making group decisions, behind failures and evaluation; the management techniques we unknowingly learnt and implemented; and all those little things that happened behind closed doors.
Leadership is required in every sector and stage of life, if we break it down, even our own family has a certain leadership hierarchy without which proper functioning would be a mess. Luckily for us, we had great seniors who had led before us, and we could look up to them; but what if we didn’t? What if we were starting from scratch? Would I have been able to start an organization like SPARSH though I had the same motivation? No. I wouldn’t, and what this hypothetical question is to me, is a reality to many.
I believe leadership begets leadership: I was not taught all the things I eventually learnt about leadership in a seminar or in a classroom, I learnt them by seeing the leaders before me. Make one good leader, and they will make a hundred more, but making that one good leader is no easy feat.
Leadership in healthcare is very misguided, even more so in healthcare education, as it mostly compromises of implementation of leadership practices followed in other sectors, which is often not the answer because healthcare is a vast field with innumerable goals and interlinks; what works in a software office will not work in community service. So then what even is leadership in health care education?
I’d say the basics are the same, proper management, planning, implementation and feedback; knowing your goal and the best way to achieve it; but there are many differences too. Most of us don’t have experience, we are constraint by time, and we don’t have the privilege of a solid board as there will always be an inflow and outflow of students. If we could work around this and reserve a place and curriculum for leadership in healthcare education, I believe the young blood of the nation could do so much more. than appear for exams and work in clinics. If they were taught and encouraged to kindle their fires and mold their ideas into actions, we would have hundreds and thousands of SPARSH’s: imagine what all we could achieve.
As Steve Jobs said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do,” but as we grow older, we grow wiser, and the wiser we grow, the less crazy we get. Why must leadership be taught as a supplementary management skill, why can’t it be taught to everyone as they progress to adulthood? Why must it be taught as a question to learn for the exam, why can’t it be taught as an essential skill of life? Leadership is not a quality that requires a degree, or inborn skills, it requires motivation; why is not that being given to the students, the subsequent youth of tomorrow, who are expected to bring a change. What can they change if they do not know how to? How will they bring change if they think they must get an MBA degree to do so? What will they change if by the time they learn their way with the ropes of an institutional hierarchy, their fire they once had within dwindles?
That dream of achieving self-health, shared by many around the globe including the WHO, will not be possible unless we make our young capable of being the solution.