Lewis Low, M.D., Legacy’s chief medical officer, recently interviewed George J. Brown, M.D., about his plans to retire by year’s end as Legacy’s president and CEO.
How has being a physician influenced your approach to leadership?
My role as leader has less to do with being a physician and more to do with being a curious human being with an opinion about everything. It’s also about being a tinkerer at heart. Whenever I see something, buy something, look at something, I’m always fascinated by the way it works and then I imagine how it could be made to work better. That tendency to be a tinkerer just naturally transferred over to being a physician and working in the health care environment.
What led you to move from practicing gastroenterology to formal leadership roles?
I never aspired to be to be a leader. I just always felt that things could be done better. Growing up in New York City, I wasn’t the most polished or tactful individual. I never hesitated to express my opinion. I would say, “I don’t think this is as good as it could be. We could do this better.”
Fortunately, there were people wiser than me, who supported me and who would always reward my opinions with a special assignment. In medical school, I didn’t like the admissions process so I ended up on the admissions committee. In residency, I didn’t like the call system and I didn’t like the way patients were admitted to different resident teams, so ultimately became chief resident. I think my big mouth led the way and then over time, my mentors and coaches taught me to put a veneer of politeness and sophistication on my brash New York behavior.
As you look at changing health care environment today, what can physicians bring to the table?
The single most important thing that physicians can bring to the table is remembering the art of medicine, particularly in our time of being forced into rushed production work. It’s important to remember we’re in the people business. We are marrying the art of medicine with the science of medicine while understanding that physicians not only have an ethical responsibility to the health and welfare of their patients, but they have a fiduciary responsibility to society to use health care resources judiciously.
What advice do you have for providers as they face uncertainty in the coming years?
Change is part of our profession. In fact, at our recent leadership conference, I shared a lecture from 2002 and it resembled 2017 — 15 years later. Don’t get dismayed, because uncertainty provides both opportunity and incentive to move things in the direction you think they should go.
Personally, I think our nation is at a crossroads. The debate about some of our country’s values is pivotal in deciding what we will provide our citizens. If you look at other developed countries, or other countries that aren’t so developed like Cuba, they all have a national health care policy and they all have national health care. We do not. I believe it’s a right, although I don’t think it should be completely free, but is a societal expectation in a civilized society. Unless we solve the problems of affordable and accessible health care, affordable housing and education and less of a class system in our society, I think we’re going to have deep social unrest. I hope we can avoid it.
Your retirement announcement came as a surprise. Why now?
Working for Legacy has been one of the best professional opportunities, but I also realize that change for organizations is good. Change for me is good. I’ve had many jobs and each subsequent one has been fulfilling and enriching. I decided a couple of years ago that 2017 would be the time for me to leave. In fact, I initially agreed to give Legacy 5-7 years, and will give nine years instead. Is it the perfect time to go? There’s never a perfect time. We’re engaged in a lot of important initiatives and it’s an exciting time for the organization. But this is my timetable and it’s the longest I’ve ever been at any organization. It’s time to switch gears and do something new.
I have a lot of unfinished projects that I’ve been working on for decades. I have a complete metal working shop and have accumulated tools that I need to set up so that I can really use them.
There are a lot of corners of the world I’ve yet to visit. My wife and I have a passion for volunteering and we’d like to continue to support Habitat for Humanity. One of our volunteer efforts was going to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, right after Hurricane Katrina to help build homes there. This was a very fulfilling experience.
I’ve toyed with the idea of teaching and will probably dust off my clinician skills so that I can volunteer to work in health care clinics. I’ll also volunteer for some boards. This is the next chapter and I’m not looking for a rocking chair or a porch.
What is your message of hope to physicians?
Most people don’t know what doctor means…it means teacher. There will always be a need for physicians, so don’t despair about the profession of medicine. Don’t discourage young women and men from wanting to be physicians. Encourage them. Help them. Mentor them. Teach them. Because if not them, who? What happens to our profession? People rely on us to help guide them through their health care crisis, and our role is pivotal as compassionate and understanding caregivers.
For more of the interview, visit the Legacy Portal.