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Dr. Hall tells Fellows to step up community involvement

Copyright 2002 by the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

By Jason van Steenburgh

During his Convocation Ceremony speech at Annual Session, outgoing College President William J. Hall, MACP, urged new College Fellows and Masters to use their power and prestige to be a force for good. (The full text of Dr. Hall's speech is available online at www.acponline.org/journals/news/hallspeech.htm.)

"Make a difference in the well-being not only of your patients," he told the group, "but also your colleagues and your communities." The College inducted 636 Fellows and 36 Masters at this year's Convocation Ceremony.

Dr. Hall described Fellows as a special class of members who are recognized as the standard bearers of internal medicine. He said that all Fellows share three characteristics that are highly predictive of success: a distinct clinical style, investment in social capital and an unerring sense of virtue.

In talking about internists' clinical style, Dr. Hall described clinical practice as "bargaining with nature" to improve the quality of patient's lives. A critical part of that interaction, he noted, is bedside manner.

Dr. Hall noted the delicate balance between the art and science of medicine by quoting the poet W. H. Auden: "Healing is not a science, but the art of wooing nature." He said that nature can take many forms—it can be a disease, poverty, or a governmental agency with which physicians must carefully negotiate.

Because being a Fellow involves more than just patient care, however, Dr. Hall congratulated the Fellows for providing inspiration to others who might want to follow in their footsteps. He urged the Fellows to spread their enthusiasm among their peers, saying it is one way to use their influence.

Dr. Hall described new Fellows as joiners who support causes in both their local communities and in the College, a trait that is increasingly rare in a society that values group activity less and less. He lamented this change, noting that working with trusted colleagues toward a common goal is the best way to change the world.

He explained that the sense of community that Fellows must embrace is strongly tied to virtue, or what some call character. Dr. Hall described virtue as an attribute that is both vitally important to a physician and one of the most basic ingredients of medicine.

He defined virtue as a set of personal values that have been developed and honed through years of self-reflection and mentoring from family and respected colleagues. Put simply, he said, virtue is the tendency to intuit the right thing to do in a situation, whether it's in your personal or professional life.

Virtue is perhaps the most important physician characteristic, he said, and the basic component of professionalism. "Our impact on patients is determined as much by who we are as it is by what we know," he said.

Because their peers have recognized Fellows as virtuous, Dr. Hall told the group that they must strive to set standards and raise the bar of excellence.

To take advantage of their new status, Dr. Hall urged the Fellows to reflect on how they can make a difference when the return home. In reflecting on that mission, he quoted Marcel Proust: "The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new vistas, but in having new eyes."

He also urged physicians to address what he described as the irony of modern medical practice: Just as medicine's diagnostic and therapeutic tools are more powerful than ever, the problems of quality, patient safety, access, regulatory excesses, and gender and racial inequities are growing.

In conclusion, Dr. Hall returned to the theme of community. "Continue to lead in your communities by finding time for worthy causes and by involving others," he told the new Fellows. "We are going to depend on you!"

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