What I Learned at Pearl Harbor

Curtis KauffmanAs a most tumultuous year comes to a close, let’s reflect a bit on what makes the people of the United States unique, what drives us toward achievement and success, and why the health-care institutions in this amazing country will continue to thrive—despite significant headwinds and uncertainty. Our cultural DNA is structured in a way that makes it certain that whatever it is that needs to get done, we will get it done. Of that, I have no doubt. In the process, we will carve a path toward prosperity by doing the right things, for the right reasons, and in support of those whose care has been entrusted to us—the patients who depend on our knowledge and commitment, especially those who have given much to build this country (and who now face declining health). I recently traveled with a group on an educational and fact-finding tour to Hawaii (yes, it was tough duty), and included in the group were three World War II veterans. One of the group, who continues to learn all that he can about how our country navigates the geopolitical landscape, is 97 years old, vitally engaged, relevant, and a precious asset. Unfortunately, the men and women in this demographic group are the ones we too often identify as patient number so-and-so, or as the 3 pm chest CT, rather than by their names. The least they deserve from us is the dignity and respect that should be instinctive, but can nevertheless be taught as part of a top-level customer-service program (more on that later). After a lifetime of study of (and interest in) World War II—and after four years in the military in the late 1960s—I was simply awed by what I learned during this most recent tour of Pearl Harbor. It’s something that had not occurred to me in the past, yet it is profound in its implications for who we are and how we function, both as parts of a nation and, by extension, as health-care professionals. Rising to the Task Amid the incredible destruction of the surprise attack that sank 11 battleships and countless fighter planes and bombers on December 7, 1941—despite the terrible loss of life, the broken spirit, and the daunting tasks that the survivors faced—the country came together and immediately identified a way forward, along with the strategies and solutions that would propel it toward victory. In a stunning turnaround, we were able to rebuild and return eight of the 11 badly damaged and sunken battleships to the fighting fleet within just eight months of their descent to the floor of the harbor. That’s simply incredible. Think of the enormity of this task and the leadership required to organize, manage, and implement the effort. I left the conference absolutely stunned by this breathtaking accomplishment and by the dedication, will, and prowess of those who made this happen. What are the lessons for us? There are two. First, as those of the greatest generation come into our orbit in the twilight of their lives (we are steadily losing them), we need to notice them, treat them well, and be at the top of our game in seeing each encounter with them as sacred. Look into their eyes. Thank them. Treat them with the ultimate respect. Second, don’t be discouraged by the state of our health-care profession as it gets battered about, comes under fire, or is otherwise pressured in this most difficult of times. Leadership quite often means that one will be tested in ways that one might not have anticipated; it means thinking beyond what is apparent—being able to see beyond the existing confusion and chaos. We, in this profession, are both obliged and honored to serve, and have an opportunity to do so while building a comfortable lifestyle—not only for ourselves, but for those we employ as well. We are given the privilege of leadership: moving others toward the realization of a vision that rises out of mission, strategy, and tactics intended to align our people and assets around a central organizing principle that is greater than the sum of its parts. We should never lose sight of this or take its value to us for granted. Visualize, build, succeed, and give back. Along the way, make sure that you notice and thank those who have made it all possible by their sacrifice. Be grateful for all of it. Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of imagingBiz.com and Radiology Business Journal, and is a 25-year veteran of the medical-imaging industry.