Doctors are tasked everyday with the daunting job of taking care of patient welfare and safety. They have to be honest, agile, active, persistent, enthusiastic, and flexible beyond measure – all important qualities that a leader in government must also have. In this day and age of rapidly evolving innovation, we need leaders who are willing to pull all stops to anchor a city, county, state, or country, and put it on the path to success. In short, we need doctors in government.
Research has shown that doctors do not pursue political careers in large numbers. In fact, on the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey values scale, medical students do not rank very highly in political or economic values when compared to theoretical values.1 This is unfortunate for two reasons – firstly it appears that medical schools in the United States do not encourage their students to actively engage in political dialogue, and second, lacking this sort of grounding in political study, doctors seem to emerge from medical school not keen on furthering their political ambitions if they have any. This is precisely why we need to reverse this trend and encourage doctors to become successful politicians. The hard work, determination and academic rigor of medical school can easily translate to a fairly notable career in politics as well.
One such doctor who emphasizes the above-discussed qualities is Dr. Don Berwick, a pediatrician who founded and for 19 years led the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), and was appointed by President Obama to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). He is currently running in the Democratic primary to be the next Governor of Massachusetts. I recently interviewed him about his campaign and why he thinks doctors should play a more active role in government. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Dr. Chatterjee: What got you interested in politics in the first place?
Dr. Berwick: I think first and foremost, I am interested in policy. In addition to my medical degree, I have a Masters degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government. I think policy should drive politics in theory. I was chosen by President Obama to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in July 2010, and served until December 2011, when the Republicans blocked my nomination in the Senate. This was a great opportunity for me to understand the policy behind the politics of healthcare, which is one of the biggest drivers of our economy as a whole.
Dr. Chatterjee: What do you think sets you apart as a doctor in the role of Governor?
Dr. Berwick: Many people do not know this, but I started the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (www.ihi.org) from scratch. IHI is an independent not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is a leading innovator, convener, partner, and driver of results in health and health care improvement worldwide. It has grown to become a 40 million dollar healthcare enterprise. There are basically three areas in which I think my training as a doctor would help me in the role of Governor of Massachusetts -- my knowledge and experience in healthcare policy, my ability to listen carefully to my patients, and my expertise in diagnosis, both of my patients and of problem areas in government.
Dr. Chatterjee: What are some of your main goals/agenda items that you want to accomplish as the next Governor of Massachusetts?
Dr. Berwick: There are five main areas. First, I want to improve the quality of education in Massachusetts. We already have one of the best public school systems in the nation. I want to stress on public investment, specifically, investing in teachers to seek higher education and training, and thus grow intellectually. Second, I want to improve the public transportation system in Massachusetts, which despite its quality, I think is under-maintained. Third, I am the only candidate in the race that is seriously calling for a single-payer healthcare system for our Commonwealth, and not just paying lip-service to it. Fourth, I want to make sure that the social safety net is in place due to rising social and financial inequality in our state as well as our country as a whole. I am a big believer in social justice. Lastly, I want to invest in workforce development as evidenced by my commitment to instituting workforce development programs during my stint as the Chief of Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Dr. Chatterjee: Who have been the biggest influences in your life, personally and career-wise?
Dr. Berwick: My wife, four wonderful children and two lovely grandchildren constantly influence and support me at every turn. Career-wise, Professor Howard Hiatt, the Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, has been a great mentor to me in my career.
1 Glaser, W. A. (1960). Doctors and politics. American Journal of Sociology, 230-245.