Needed: Lessons in Leadership

by Grace-Marie Turner

Former American Medical Assocation president Donald Palmisano, M.D., knows a thing or two about leadership, and the updated and amplified version of his book could not be more appropriate for our times. On Leadership: Essential Principles for Business, Political and Personal Success serves as an indispensible guide with lessons from successful leaders whose decisions have a sweeping impact on nations and from those whose decisions save a single life.

The book is a mixture of true stories, including some of the author’s own, that exemplify the essential characteristics of a leader: courage, persistence, decisiveness, communication, creativity, and doing your homework.

We can only conclude that the outcome of Obamacare would have been very different had Dr. Palmisano still been in charge of the AMA when it gave its support to that legislation at a crucial time in return for . . . nothing, really.

This law will be terrible for physicians and worse for patients. Sixty percent of physicians said the new law will force them to stop serving or restrict  services to certain categories of patients, especially in Medicare and Medicaid, and an alarming number of doctors are planning to leave the practice of medicine as soon as they can.

The experienced and invaluable leadership in the medical profession will be lost as physicians are forced to turn over more and more of their authority to government officials dictating the practice of medicine. Most say they will leave medicine rather than subject their patients to medical decisions made by bureaucrats rather than physicians.

Dr. Palmisano, a practicing physician in New Orleans, gives an example of why medical care in America has been the best in the world, and why we want experienced and decisive doctors in charge.

In his chapter on persistence, he quotes Winston Churchill from the dark days of World War II saying, “Never give in — never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, give in.”

Dr. Palmisano reports on working with another surgeon to try to save a 23-year-old man badly injured in an automobile accident. After significant ER intervention, the patient’s heart stopped beating. Let him tell the story:

External cardiac compression was done, but it did not restore the heartbeat. The anesthesiologist shook his head and said, “There is nothing more we can do. We must pronounce him dead.”

At that moment, I refused to believe that this young man was dead. Everything that was supposed to be done was done. I pulled back the drapes covering the patient’s chest, splashed antiseptic on his chest and cut it open. I reached for his lifeless heart and began to squeeze it between my hands. I told the anesthesiologist to keep squeezing the breathing bag filled with oxygen. I could not leave the room without saying to myself that EVERYTHING possible had been done. Suddenly, between squeezes on the heart, I felt it start beating!

The patient recovered and went on to become an accomplished engineer, sending post cards to Dr. Palmisano from all over the world.

Persistence pays off.

Dr. Palmisano and the many stories he reports will inspire you and give you hope for America, from courageous and persistent politicians like Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio to examples of failures in leadership by “Brownie” during Hurricane Katrina. The book is a wealth of life lessons from Dr. Palmisano’s extensive experience — from public speaking and debate prep to his love of technology and how it can extend our expertise.

Each chapter ends with lessons learned. The lessons in the concluding chapter about “Emerging leaders in a time of crisis” seem most relevant: “It’s time for a new generation of leaders,” he declares, and he believes that the American people are ready.

Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.