Society Presidents Rewriting the Rules on Physician Leadership

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Society Presidents Rewriting the Rules on Physician Leadership

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Michigan's leading physician and health care organizations have been around for a combined 331 years, but dynamic physician leadership has never been more important.

With health care delivery changing at a breakneck speed, helping policymakers in Lansing and across the state keep pace is no small task, but it's a responsibility that's resting on exciting new shoulders.

Doctors Rose Ramirez, Myral Robbins, and Tina Tanner have distinguished themselves as physician leaders in patient rooms and board rooms across Michigan, and in 2015, each are able to include a new line on their long list of accomplishment; being the top doctors at statewide associations representing more than 26,000 physicians and the hundreds of thousands of patients they treat annually.

The Michigan State Medical Society, Michigan Osteopathic Association and the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians are certainly no strangers to physician leaders. Each selects a new President annually who helps guide everything from public policy to patient advocacy, professional development and a thousand things in between.

But Ramirez, Robbins and Tanner's presidencies mark a notable first: 2015 marks the first time each of the state's leading physician groups has been led at the same time by a woman.

That's a distinction that isn't lost on these leaders, even as they juggle unending public policy responsibilities, personal practices, and a shared commitment to developing the next generation of physician leaders.

"Physicians are natural leaders in health care, and we all need to join with our voices to advocate for patients in our state," said Rose Ramirez, MD, President of the Michigan State Medical Society.

"As women leaders in medicine, we want to encourage other women in medicine to find one place where they can get involved," she said. "Sometimes the responsibility of the practice and family and children can be very demanding, but getting involved in a committee, or your House of Delegates, can be a great way to understand and learn the process while developing your own leadership skills."

For Ramirez, that means working on the state's largest stages to increase awareness about the benefits of vaccines to prevent childhood diseases and pursuing public policy changes that increase Michiganders' access to primary care physicians.

"We have big issues in front of us -- scope of practice, protecting auto no fault, graduate medical education and loan repayment," said Myral Robbins, DO, president of the Michigan Osteopathic Association.

Tina Tanner, MD, president of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, says it's all about delivering better care and better outcomes at better costs.

"We not only advocate for family physicians, we advocate for patients," she said. "That's why we are here doing what we do."

Statewide leadership isn't the only place where Doctors Ramirez, Robbins and Tanner find common ground. They share many public policy goals -- increased access to care, improving vaccination rates, expanding graduate medical education and providing opportunities for physicians to live and work in rural communities.

All three are graduates of Michigan State University, and each point to childhood experiences that set them on the path to medicine.

For Tanner, it was the loss of her favorite uncle to cancer that drove her to become the first member of her family to ever attend college and then to medical school.

Ramirez instantly recalls time spent as a child growing up in a hunting family.

"When I was in 5th grade, my father was cleaning animals to use for meat, and I was fascinated," she said. "But I'd want to give first aid to the deer instead of shooting it."

Robbins fondly remembers meeting her childhood physician, "Doctor Pat," who proved to be a key role model, directing her toward medicine.

But it isn't the past, but their vision for the future of health care leadership, that really binds them together -- and sets them apart.

"When I think of a leader, I think of looking ahead and having a vision of what you need to do to get there," said Ramirez. "Looking ahead at what's changing in medicine -- how can we make it better for patients and for physicians."

That starts, she said, with engaging the next generation of physician leaders, mentoring them, and getting them engaged.

"Leadership is encouragement and relationships," said Tanner. "It's finding that something extra that each person has, pairing it with their passions and moving them forward together."

Robbins agreed: "The emerging generation of new physicians, I'm in awe of everything they've accomplished. If I could impact their decision to be a part of leadership, that would be my proudest accomplishment."

With a fresh focus on mentorship and a commitment to preparing their organizations' members for the future, health policy is in the hands of such strong women physicians today -- and more ready than ever for tomorrow.