Reflections on leadership

As many of us reflect on the significance of the present moment and the events of the past few weeks, I have been moved to think about courage and leadership and what that means for all of us. Many ask the question, what are the fundamental qualities of a good leader? Words such as honesty, integrity, compassion, determination, and transparency come to mind. Whether leading a government, a department, a small business, a research lab or a place of worship, there must be some immutable elements that truly effective leaders all share. Entire walls of bookstores are lined with authors attempting to distill that secret, so I do not claim to have insights that others have not already offered. However, and as I look around the department, I see many examples of leadership and courage that give me hope. Hope for the future of our department, our profession, and our country. Therefore, I decided to use this post to share a few (out of many) examples of leadership that characterize our department and that should inspire us to take up the mantle of leadership in whatever sphere of influence we might have. 

Our halls are rife with evidence of strong and effective leaders. Dr. Colleen Campbell has been elected to the position of Secretary/Treasurer for the National Society of Genetic Counselors, the professional society governing the practices of this rapidly growing field. Dr. Campbell has led University of Iowa Health Care’s incorporation of genetic counseling into our practices for years. Not only has she advanced our use of precision medicine at Iowa, but she lobbied extensively and tirelessly with our state legislature to pass a licensure requirement for practicing genetic counselors in Iowa. Now that she has left her mark at the state level, Dr. Campbell has stepped up to the national stage where those same talents will be certainly put to beneficial use. So perhaps we can say leaders always seek out opportunities and new challenges for growth that will amplify their impact, not only for personal gain but for those whom we serve and represent.

Leaders also inspire others toward excellence and great achievement through their example, regardless of their station or rank. Dr. Takaaki Kobayashi, a third-year (recently board-certified!) infectious diseases fellow, was first author on an interesting case of a fungal infection of a prosthetic joint. You can read the details of the case, but this is the tip of the iceberg that does not  fully capture the depth of this story. When I heard of this publication, I decided to take a quick look on PubMed, where I found that this is one of sixteen publications for Dr. Kobayashi in 2020, half of which he served as first author. Certainly this reveals a dedication and diligence on his part, but I think it also points to a second important component of our secret sauce and fertile soil here, which seeks to nurture and develop future leaders. There is a culture of mentorship that exists throughout our department, and is strongly but not exclusively, exemplified in the Division of Infectious Diseases. From Division Director Dr. Dan Diekema through Fellowship Program Director Dr. Judy Streit and Assistant Director Dr. Ilonka Molano to junior faculty like frequent co-author Dr. Poorani Sekar, Dr. Kobayashi has been surrounded by many coaches and mentors pushing him toward remarkable success as he already is emerging as a leader in his field, joining many other leaders that abound in his division.

Frankly, it is difficult to not find examples throughout our department of individuals demonstrating leadership. There is leadership in the innovation born from 2020’s shift to virtual presentations in the 2021 Research Seminar Series organized by our Vice Chair for Research Dr. Isabella Grumbach, who was recently elected to the Association of University Cardiologists (more on this in future communications). There is leadership in sacrifice, in the risking of one’s one personal safety to save someone else, seen in the still-weekly extra shifts in the MICU taken by all our fellows in Pulmonary and Critical Care. There is leadership in the compassion shown by our Chief Residents as they round and interact with our interns and residents, making sure that the burdens of this pandemic are not weighing too heavily on them. There is leadership in the attention to detail and creative problem-solving that all of our administrative staff engage in behind the scenes, advocating for our faculty and trainees to ensure that they have the necessary resources for all of them to be successful in our Department’s multiple missions. True leaders, it seems, advance missions not for their own glory but for something larger than themselves. If we are lucky, we get to celebrate milestones or be briefly celebrated ourselves, and then we get back to the work that gives us meaning, that gives us hope, work that has a legacy larger than ourselves, as we strive through service toward a goal to leave the world better than the way we found it. 

This brief post does not begin to recognize all those who exemplify many qualities of true leadership in our department, its divisions, in our professional societies, or in the community, who are courageous voices advocating for the underserved, or who lead by selfless devotion to their patients and to our learners.  I have written much about our past and ongoing response to the pandemic, our commitment to racial justice and equity, our commitment to the future of medicine, our leadership in research and education and our commitment to our patients and our community. Therefore, in times like these, let me encourage all of us to continue to draw on the depth of our talents to advocate and work even more fiercely toward the core values that we all hold dear. 

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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