Exploring Human Potential

AMA Foundation Address: Professional Courtesy – March 28, 2004

AMA Foundation in Medicine Awards
March 28, 2004
Chicago IL
Mike Magee MD

When I was a little boy – over 50 years ago – I was lying on an examination table – on a Sunday morning – in my underwear – in my father’s office that was attached to the house.

The door to the room was closed and my brothers and sisters were huddled outside.  I was inside – with my father and a neurologist – who had extended to him – the professional courtesy of coming to our home – on a Sunday morning – It was cold in that room – but his hands were warm as he raised my leg in the air and said, “Now, with all your might – I want you to hold you leg up” – and he let go.

And I remember that leg falling to the table – as if it were detached – not even mine.  And I can’t remember what he said – But I do know that the way he said it – allowed him to not only tell my father and me – I had polio – but also to bring us closer together – as father and son – to manage both our fears – which were coming from very different places that day – and to point us both – to a more hopeful future.

Some 20 years later – I became a doctor – But in truth – my medical education began that day in his office.  I recovered quickly – was soon back to exploring, wondering, questioning.  And one day, I said to my mother – “Mom, do you think if dad had wanted to, he could have been a bus driver?”
It seemed to me – at the time that being a bus driver – was the most complex, responsible and interesting of all jobs – certainly beyond the reach of most normal human beings.  That you could master the skills necessary to drive this huge machine – that you could deal with the complexity of communicating with all types of human beings – that you could safely transport them to their destination – and remain calm, collected, and happy most of the time – and – that you could do it day in and day out – year in and year out – well, you can understand why I was so impressed!

But my mother could not!! She looked at me, and simply said – “Michael, what is going on in your head? Your father is a doctor!  Of course he could have been a bus driver if he had wanted to!”

This morning – as I was riding to the airport – on my way to this celebration – which I look forward to each year – I was thinking of those two stories and the people we honor this evening.

From the first story – the boy with polio and the two doctors together one Sunday morning – I would ask that you help me resurrect a phrase – professional courtesy – professional courtesy!  How should we treat each other? How well do we care for each other and each other’s families these days?  With all we have been through in the past 25 years, how do we find our way back to that space – that feeling I felt that Sunday morning – as I watched 2 doctors care for each other as they cared for me.

And the 2nd story – The bus driver and my mother’s startled reaction!  As a child, I had underestimated what we – as doctors do.  But I am certainly not alone.  In fact, now 50 years later – with a team of sociologists – we’ve established that physicians contribute 3 important functions to stable civic societies that go far beyond the standard nuts & bolts of healthcare.

The first is this – together as a collective – hundreds of thousands of times each day – we process the populace’s fear and worry – which in our absence would accumulate and destroy our society.

Second, as with my father and his small son – in individualizing care – we subtly reinforce essential bonds between the individual, the family, the community and society.

And third – we point the people toward a hopeful future – instilling in them the confidence necessary to invest – their money – their time – and their dreams in what could be – rather than what might have been.

My mother knew the truth – the full role and contribution of doctors – because she observed it! She supported it! She nurtured it!

My father and I – and I suspect many of you – are still learning the full meaning of what we do.  We are so busy doing – that we fail to appreciate what has been done – and  what – together –  we  will  accomplished in the future.  But my mother knew!

This program offers us a brief moment in time to reflect and recommit to each other. In honoring tonight’s heroes – we honor each of you!  As you reach out to each of them – I am certain you will feel them reaching back to you – as you extend to each other PROFESSIONAL COURTESY.

And if some day – in your home town – you hop on a bus – and see me driving – don’t be surprised!  Because the skills, responsibility, and sense of common stewardship that each of us master as physicians are quite transferable to many other critical roles in society.

Thank you.

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