Kantar Health Blog

On Leadership Wellness and Wellbeing from a Physician’s Perspective on being the Cancer Patient

by Richard Martin | Jul 13, 2012
Richard Martin
I listened to a presentation made during the American Society of Clinical Oncology® (ASCO) annual meeting this year by an oncologist who has been undergoing cancer treatment for some time. His observations regarding the massive role non-physician “ancillary” healthcare personnel play in patient well-being were framed by his intimate knowledge of the disease and its treatment as a physician and as a patient. His observations were intuitive, but the subtleties he described are profound.

Physicians are leaders of patient care. A good, positive, supportive physician leader cannot assume, however, that their work results in the patient’s well-being. Consider that this physician’s very best experiences in the gruelling process of being treated for cancer and the impact it had on his life and career came not from his doctors but from interactions with ancillary personnel. Not surprisingly then, his very worst experiences came when those interactions did not go well. This would not be different for anyone, of course. A good experience with a physician, with the individual patient leader, is good, but it does not and cannot offset bad experiences within the healthcare milieu patients must navigate. Whether it is a solo practice with small office staff or a more complex clinic or hospital/healthcare system, physician leadership is critical for a patient’s wellness but not enough to assure their well-being. Well-being comes from the small but powerful impact of the many experiences encountered in one’s environment.

How does this apply to us every day? It applies in realizing that we all have a leadership role, whether it is hierarchical in an organization or simply through the one-on-one influence we have on those around us. It applies in realizing that no matter what leadership role we have, it can be easily undermined by many small, insensitive comments or actions by us or those around us. For Leaders (with a capital L) it means recognizing that to lead effectively one must assure that their environment is shaped such that wellness of the patient (or the business) is assured and that wellbeing is realized. With that comes fulfillment for all.

As the presenter closed his presentation he mentioned one of the many lessons he has learned through his experience: that being a cancer patient is not easy. He has found that cancer patients are the real heroes of oncology for they endure incredible odds fighting a battle with inadequate weapons, and I would add in a system that is not always as supportive as it should be. What he learned is humility, something many Leaders desperately need more of.

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