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Two Weeks in Boston

As I have revealed to some of our patients, I am currently on sabbatical. As a full-time tenured professor at the University of Southern California, I am entitled, every seven years, to apply for a period of six months without any academic responsibilities.

Professors in other disciplines take this time to travel and visit other academic centers, often in foreign lands. Those of us in the medical profession try to do the same, but cannot really leave our patients and medical practices. Therefore, I have had to satisfy myself with absences lasting perhaps two or three weeks at most. That is why I am still at the office much of the time. (I can, of course, be reached via email anywhere in the world on those instances when I do travel.)

As part of my sabbatical, I spent two weeks in November 2009 at the Harvard School of Public Health attending the “Leadership Development Seminar for Physicians in Academic Health Centers.”

This was a fascinating experience! Firstly, feeling like one is back in school—complete with classrooms, teachers, homework, and assignments—is a refreshing trip down memory lane. I was reminded of, and immediately taken back to, my old style of taking notes, trying to read assignments before class, and all the methods of trying to assemble and organize new information that I used in college and in medical school.

What was brand new was the subject matter. These were topics I had never previously experienced, at least not in this type of format. There were lectures on group dynamics, leadership styles and personality types, and organizational systems.

Through the review of various stories of successful and unsuccessful organizations, I came to appreciate that in the absence of leadership and structure, human organizations tend to become disorganized, to not keep up with necessary changes, and gradually become obsolete.

For example, the first class session presented to us dealt with the demise of the “Saturday Evening Post”. It was not obvious how the rise and fall of a major weekly periodical had anything to do with the practice of medicine! However, we quickly grasped the metaphor of a successful organization undergoing a slow demise by failing to adapt to changing times. That particular lecture still remains one of my favorite classes of the experience.

When I returned, I felt invigorated by the new information, and organized our first “mini-retreat” in which our office closed for several hours, divided into groups, and came up with several new initiatives for improving patient care, communication, and accuracy. I am looking forward to putting these initiatives to work in 2010!

Fertility care is a stressful, emotionally intense, deeply personal experience that is very disruptive even under the best of circumstances. It always has been my goal to understand and confront the mental and emotional part of the process, to appreciate the importance of the mind-body connection, and to make our office and our team function in such a way as to not only optimize the mechanical part of the treatment but also to make our patients feel comfortable, secure, and confident that everything is being done as well as it possibly can be.

My two weeks in Boston have given me new tools, a new perspective, and renewed confidence that there is much that can be done to make things even better than they already are.

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