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Building a Healthy Community: Your Path to New Heights of Professional Satisfaction?
ISMS President
Paul E. Pedersen, MD

Today's healthcare landscape is challenging, to say the least. Numerous systemic issues have left many physicians struggling to keep themselves – and their patients – healthy. We sense the truth of the words spoken by Dr. William Osler, a Canadian physician and scholar (1849 – 1919), in his famous final speech at Oxford University: "There must be a very different civilization or there will be no civilization at all."

Framed this way, the task can seem colossal!

But what if physicians took up the responsibility to make their communities a better "civilization" – one step at a time? What if accepting the greater challenge of building a healthy community is actually a path to new heights of personal and professional satisfaction?

You might ask, "With all that I have to do already, including frustrations with my EHRs, 15 minute appointments for patients, decreasing compensation for the hard work that I do and increasing family responsibilities, how can I find the time and energy to start something else?"

In response, I offer three thoughts of encouragement:

First, start small. Every day we ask our patients to take small steps that add up to big changes, and we should take the same approach. Any project can be divided into bite-sized pieces, and our unique interests and expertise will help us decide where to start.

Second, you will not labor alone. Every community has people willing to work to make things better for themselves and their neighbors, and physician leadership can help bring them together. More often, the work is already being done, and physician participation can help push existing efforts to the next level.

Finally, humanistic motivations aside, there's plenty in it for you. I know it's easy to focus on the barriers. But speaking from experience, those frustrations tend to melt away when we are engaged with meaningful work that fills us with a sense of accomplishment – even if it happens outside our day job.

A community that is healthy in body, mind and spirit is a thriving community where people actually want to live and work. Helping to create that kind of community is worth the effort and investment, and pays huge dividends to ourselves, as well as our neighbors.

So, how do we start?

  • Look at your local Community Health Needs Assessment. If there isn't one, helping develop it might be a great start! It will be eye-opening to find out what your community members think.

  • Talk to your local Rotary Club and other civic organizations. Business owners and other engaged citizens have great insight into the needs and opportunities that exist, and are invaluable partners.

  • Talk to your physician colleagues, even – or especially – those at other institutions. I think we'd all be surprised at what "coopetition" can create!

  • Learn from other communities who have done this. The Blue Zones Project® is one example where communities marked by extraordinary longevity and wellness are working to help others find similar success.

Whether you have a vision for your whole community to become the next Blue Zone or just want to make a few simple changes in your own neighborhood, ISMS can help with connection and communication. We as physicians are stronger together. Let's BE HEARD.

When do you want to start?

Throughout my term as president, I can be reached at DrPedersen@isms.org. Please don't hesitate to reach out any time!

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