Internist makes transition from the clinic to the Capitol
By Stacey Butterfield
For anyone interested in politics, Nov. 6, 2012, was a suspenseful day, but ACP Fellow Ami Bera, MD, was left hanging a lot longer than the rest of us.
The race between Dr. Bera, a Democratic candidate to represent California’s 7th Congressional District, and the incumbent, Rep. Dan Lungren, was so close that the Associated Press didn’t call it until over a week later, on Nov. 15.
Dr. Bera was declared the winner, and he’s since settled into his new task of representing Sacramento County residents. He’s been working in California for quite a while now, first in practice, then as chief medical officer for the county, and most recently as a clinical professor of medicine and associate dean for admissions and outreach at University of California, Davis.
His new role is not entirely different from his previous ones, according to Dr. Bera. “I’m put in a position where I can help people. Here in Congress, we have the ability to positively help a lot of people in this country if we have the right policies,” he said.
His internal medicine training (medical school at the University of California, Irvine, and residency at California Pacific Medical Center) can assist with that effort, Dr. Bera added. “We’re trained to listen and hear what our patients are saying. That serves me well as a congressman. I think what frustrates most people is that they feel like Congress isn’t listening.”
Physicians around the U.S. should be trying to ensure that their own representatives are listening to them, Dr. Bera advised.
“The health care delivery system in this country is going to change dramatically over the next decade,” he said. “We have a special vantage point. We’ve seen what happens in the exam room. We’ve seen what happens at the bedside. Now is the time not for us to sit on the sidelines and complain but to get involved and sit at the table. As physicians, we should be sitting at the head of the table.”
Dr. Bera is at the table on two House committees, Science, Space and Technology and Foreign Affairs. As befits the only Indian-American currently serving in Congress, he’s also a member of the caucus on India and Indian-Americans. Dr. Bera’s parents immigrated to the U.S. before he was born and were the people he named when asked to choose a personal hero.
Family continues to be an important aspect of his life. Dr. Bera is married to another internist, Janine Bera, MD, and they have a 15-year-old daughter, Sydra. His relationship with them is his most meaningful nonmedical accomplishment, he said, while helping others is what fulfills him professionally.
“Any time you can help a patient and they say thank you, that’s a meaningful professional accomplishment. Now as a congressman, if I can help a constituent, and they send me a note or give me a call and say thank you, I don’t think there’s anything better than that,” Dr. Bera said.
Something I wish I’d learned in medical school: Those gray areas of medicine, where there’s no one right answer and you have to work with the patient to help empower them to find the right answer. Now, at the University of California, Davis, we teach a course called “Doctoring” where we use standardized patients to put our medical students in real scenarios.
Hardest medical lesson learned: You can’t do everything. You can try to help people as much as you can, but it doesn’t always work out.
Favorite author: Malcolm Gladwell.
Books on my nightstand: “The Journey to the East,” by Hermann Hesse; “Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism,” by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller; “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” by Leonard Mlodinow.
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