Reach out or drop out

June 24, 2014
My first, and favorite, college instructor was Dr. James Rachels. He was a leader in medical ethics whose articles appeared in The New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine. Of course, none of those accolades mattered to me at the time. My high school debate team had given me all the philosophy and argumentation that I felt I needed. I took his class because it started at noon – a full hour after I usually rolled out of bed. 

Just after his midterm examination, Rachels asked me to stay after class. By my estimation, I was a near-perfect student. My average was in the mid-90s, and I was quiet in during his lectures. I thought his request for a one-on-one conversation had to be a sign that he was going to ask for my assistance with a special project or maybe to serve as a tutor for some of the struggling students in our class. Instead, when the door closed and he and I were alone, he quietly took two pieces of paper from his brief case and handed them to me. 

I recognized instantly one of the pages. It was a course “drop” form with Rachels’ signature at the bottom of the page. All that was missing was my signature. The other page was a list of names, addresses and phone numbers. I stood dumbfounded trying to think how these pages could be used to tutor an attractive coed. 

“Jason,” Rachels said. “You seem bored in class, so I thought I would give you these to consider.”

I looked at the pages again, not knowing how to respond. 

“Which page would you like to use today?” he asked.

Without understanding what was happening and being too embarrassed to ask for clarification, I held up the list of names. 

Rachels smiled and said, “I look forward to seeing your work on Monday.”

I left the room stunned and silent. When I returned to my dorm, I reviewed the list of names and tried to determine what my instructor intended for me to accomplish. Was there some sort of code embedded in the list that I needed to decipher? Was our class research paper somehow related to the list? I studied the pages, but nothing of any real meaning was obvious. So, I picked up my phone and began calling each number on the list, not knowing who I was calling or why. 

Over the next few days, I began speaking to, and interviewing, individuals who appeared, at least on paper, to be completely separate; however, I quickly saw that they all had ties to an important medical ethics case ongoing in Alabama. I also saw the lesson Rachels meant for me to learn. 

No matter how confident we may feel with a topic or a process, we should always feel compelled to learn more by actively inquiring others. 

For the past several weeks, we at HMT have worked hard to compile this year’s Resource Guide. Please do not dismiss it as a mere directory of companies. Don’t just add it to your pile of new periodicals for future reading. It is meant to serve as a tool, a catalyst for you to begin reaching out to other members of healthcare, no matter how disconnected they may initially seem, and start making new connections between the issues and challenges you face on the job and their solutions. It may be difficult and awkward at times, but that level of interaction is what is required, even if you feel confident that you need no outside support, to properly address the biggest problems in our ever-changing field. 

Like Dr. Rachels, our patients expect nothing less from us. 

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