KMA Community Connector Leadership Program
The KMA Community Connector Leadership Program (CCLP) is an opportunity for physicians to enhance their leadership skills through education and direct community involvement. Community Connectors are physicians who are engaged in their communities in an effort to promote KMA policies and the practice of medicine in Kentucky by working with business, government and civic leaders.
Participants in the program will be highlighted in media releases and KMA publications as a physician Community Connector, receive Continuing Medical Education credit and have the opportunity for training and experience as a physician leader.
To obtain the CCLP designation, physicians must complete the following activities:
- Become an active member of the Kentucky Medical Association. To renew your membership, click here.
- Complete a 15-minute informational webinar.
- Serve in a leadership role within medicine. This can include a leadership position in an organized medical society, organized medical staff, group practice or public health department.
- Serve in a leadership role in the community at large. This can include a leadership position in a civic, religious or political group.
- Participate in a public education activity designed to improve public health or educate the public on health issues.
- Attend and complete the KMA Leadership Academy, which will equip you with the tools you need to become an effective leader within your profession and community.
In addition to being recognized as a Community Connector, participants will also have the opportunity to direct a $100 donation to the local charity or organization of their choice.
Contact Laura Hartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-814-1386 about your intent to participate. KMA staff will contact participants about important dates and program information.
Preparing for Unexpected Turns on Career Path & Leadership
Don Swikert, M.D., wanted to be a physician “for as long as I can remember.” But while the various turns his career path has followed weren’t necessarily in his plans, he believes he was ready for them, in part, because of his involvement in organized medicine groups like the Kentucky Medical Association.
“You never know what is going to fall in your lap,” said Dr. Swikert, who served as KMA president 2002-03. He’s a member of the 2015 class of KMA Community Connectors.
Dr. Swikert and his wife, current KMA President Nancy Swikert, M.D., opened a practice in northern Kentucky in 1980 at a time when small practices—those with one, two or three physicians—were the norm. Managed care was starting about that time and the Swikerts eventually joined a growing trend, merging their practice with other small groups, laying the foundation for what is now the St. Elizabeth Physician Group.
Long involved in KMA, Dr. Swikert joined the KMA Board of Trustees in 1989, serving first as AMA Alternate Delegate from 1990 to 1994 and then as AMA Delegate starting in 1995. Through that involvement he gained the skills he needed, particularly communications skills, to serve as the president of what was then Primary Care Associates from 1994 to 2001.
“You have to communicate in a way that makes them (physicians) want to (merge) … to pursue a bigger vision,” Dr. Swikert said. To manage the practice group, Dr. Swikert had to give up two days of clinical time. In the early 2000s, an insurance company called Choice Care started and he served as a Northern Kentucky member for the company’s board. He was scheduled to soon exit the board and believed the person who served on that board should manage the practice group.
“Information in business is what you make decisions on and determines where you want to go,” he said. So he stepped down as head of the group, returning to clinical practice and faculty member full-time. Not long after that, the Family Medicine Program Director at St. Elizabeth Healthcare stepped down. Many of the residents encouraged him to apply.
“I knew nothing about running a program, but those skills (gained in KMA and AMA), I believe, opened that door for me to be able to do that,” he said. So he applied, and was offered the position, which he held for 17 years.
Looking back, he said, those soft skills from association involvement helped prepare him to serve. That’s why he believes strongly in physicians getting involved in their associations.
“People ask, ‘what’s in it for me,’” he said. “You realize what narrow tunnel vision that is.” If not for that involvement, he asks, “How are you going to develop your skills?”
Swikert, who chairs the KMA Legislative Quick Action Committee and the KMA Commission on Legislative & Political Advocacy, knows the importance of involvement on a broader scale. That wasn’t always the case. Sitting in Commonwealth Hall, the grand entrance of the Thomas J. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, Dr. Swikert admits he would not have been one of the many medical students in attendance at the 2017 KMA Physicians Day at the Capitol. But as he set up practice with his wife, they realized the importance of involvement because of the discussions on scope of practice issues. So he got involved.
“Other physicians have different demands and sometimes you can’t devote the time to do that,” he said. “But if we didn’t do that kind of activity (legislative advocacy), who would speak for them. Somebody has got to at least talk the language, otherwise you have no voice.”
Some physicians, he believes, don’t like politics. “But are you getting the democratic process mixed up with politics?”
Dr. Swikert stresses the need to advocate, not as specialists, but as physicians. “Legislators don’t care what individual specialties think,” he said. “They care about what physicians think.”
While he’s been involved with legislative advocacy since 2001, Dr. Swikert said he can’t remember a time that any legislation that didn’t take a few years to pass. He’s happy with the evolving nature of physician involvement, and points to the large turnout to the KMA Physicians Day at the Capitol as evidence of energized engagement on the issues.
Dr. Swikert has long been a leader. In addition to his roles at KMA, he’s also served as president of the KMA Alliance, president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and president of his local medical society. He completed the requirements for the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program in 2015, something he admits would have been more beneficial to him 10 or 20 years ago. “The real value,” he said, “would come for younger physicians. It’s a way to really develop (leadership) skills.”
Dr. Swikert was born at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington and grew up in Fort Mitchell, where he graduated from Dixie Heights High School. He graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in biology in 1973, then from the University of Louisville Medical School in 1977. He completed his residency in family practice at St. Elizabeth in 1980.
He had every intention to enter the field of plastic surgery; after all, it was visits to his plastic surgeon in his youth that prompted his interest in medicine.
“On his walls were all these pictures and awards and all these different things, and I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do,’” Dr. Swikert said.
In medical school, he took a four week elective with a plastic surgeon at UofL. The surly nature of that professor, especially compared to his own affable nature, turned him off. “That whole four weeks, he never spoke to me,” Dr. Swikert said.
The next rotation came in family medicine, of which William P. VonderHaar, M.D., a former KMA president, was program director. He and Dr. Swikert’s orthodontist at the time pointed him in the direction of family medicine.
It’s a career turn he’s glad he took. “I still enjoy the practice of medicine,” Dr. Swikert said. He’s still on the faculty at the St. Elizabeth Family Practice Residency Program and handles the vast majority of hospital rounds.
Outside medicine, Dr. Swikert, a self-professed country boy, enjoys being outside on his 23 acres in Rabbit Hash, which reminds him of the area where he grew up. In fact, ask about his hobbies and he will tell you he’d rather spend the time mowing eight of that 23 acres than playing golf.
“If you think about medicine, you don’t always get to see a positive end result,” he said. “When I go out and mow eight acres, I can sit on the porch and look out and see what I did.”
In his many years of service to KMA and working with residents at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Dr. Swikert can look back and see what he did through positive results in the association and the medical practices of many protégé.
Medicine a Way to Make a Difference in People’s Lives
Mary Helen Davis, MD, seemed to always be on the path for a career as a physician.
“I was one of those people who kind of decided when I was 6 years old that I wanted to be a doctor,” she said.
In sixth grade, she volunteered at the American Red Cross washing out test tubes or anything else someone her age could do. She worked as a candy striper at old St. Joseph’s Hospital in Louisville. “My entire focus was on going to medical school from a very early age,” Dr. Davis said.
Her family moved from Louisville to Northern Kentucky when Dr. Davis was in high school when her father was transferred to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. She graduated from Dixie Heights High School and attended Thomas More College, majoring in chemistry. There, she met her husband, Al Martin, MD, a pathologist in Louisville.
They married soon after graduation; Dr. Davis attended the University of Louisville Medical School and Dr. Martin attended the University of Kentucky Medical School for a year before transferring to Louisville. Dr. Davis graduated medical school in 1982, finished residency at UofL in 1986 and completed a fellowship at Harvard in 1987.
Dr. Davis is board certified in psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, as well as Hospice and Palliative Care. Although she is currently employed through the physician group, Integrative Psychiatry, her passion is working with complex medical patients especially those dealing with a cancer diagnosis. She currently serves as program consultant to Baptist Health, working with their oncology program in developing supportive care services.
Dr. Davis has seen a lot of changes in medicine over the years and expects more to come.
“What the younger physicians have to realize is that change is accelerating,” she said, as she ticks off a list of the quickly changing aspects of medicine—the delivery models of practice, the introduction of technology, the economics of medicine, and a more balanced gender representation in the practice of medicine, just to name a few.
Those changes have created some stress issues, causing physician burnout, she said.
“As a psychiatrist, when I speak to most physicians, they still love everything there is to love about patient care,” she said. “What they are struggling with is all the bureaucracy and red tape in managing health care and the evolving health care system.”
Some change has been positive, Dr. Davis said. “With all of the many advances in medicine, it’s very exciting to be able to watch the evolution of one’s practice in terms of the repertoire of options you have in treating patients,” she said.
For instance, when she graduated medical school, only a few psychotropic drugs were available to manage depression. The stigma for psychiatric illnesses has decreased and there is more of a push toward the integration of behavioral health into mainstream medicine. “If you neglect behavioral health issues, you can’t control chronic disease, cost issues,” Dr. Davis said.
She uses her experience through these changes as she works with young physicians.
“I have tried to incorporate the lessons learned from participation in organized medicine and the leadership skills learned into my work supervising and teaching residents,” she said. “I am really proud of their track record in advocacy.”
She mentions the accomplishments of residents, including Daniel Jackson, a second-year resident who recently acquired a nine-month internship on Capitol Hill to work with Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state on health care issues, and others who have been recipients of resident leadership awards.
“I believe that the strongest leadership is by example,” Dr. Davis said. “We need to do better engaging and encouraging young physician and early career physicians and allowing them participation opportunities that respects and protects their need for work/life balance.”
She strives to do that through her work with residents. This year, she received the Irma Bland Certificate of Excellence in Teaching Residents Award presented by the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. Davis has been a strong believer in involvement in organized medicine. That’s because organizations like KMA “are there to advocate for you as a professional. … Your professional organization is the best way to help you protect your professional values and the integrity of your ability to practice.”
She is actively involved in KMA and Greater Louisville Medical Society, where she is past chair of the Policy and Advocacy Committee. She is a member of the 2015 class of the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program, which she said falls in line with her core professional values.
“When you complete residency, you invest time in obtaining CME to improve your clinical proficiency in your specialty,” she said. “One of the things I have found as I matured in my career, there’s so much more to the practice of medicine than just your patient care.”
That includes, among other things, patient advocacy, leadership on public policy and consideration of the health care delivery systems, as well as other areas that medical school doesn’t teach. The KMA Community Connector program, she said, is an avenue of participation in KMA leadership programs.
“That has become a really important part of medical practice, in addition to the clinical practice, is having an impact on policy, obtaining leadership skills and physicians filling leadership roles within their community,” she said.
Dr. Davis said that’s an important lesson for young physicians.
“Medicine, with all its challenges, is still a very exciting and rewarding place to have a career,” she said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely do it all over again.
“I look at it as a very rewarding career and an opportunity to be engaged in people’s lives in make a difference in a way that no other profession really can.”
Beyond her medical career, Dr. Davis is an avid outdoorsperson. She spent her recent birthday weekend in The Parklands hiking, biking and kayaking. She also plays a lot of tennis. “I subscribe to the philosophy, work hard and play hard,” she said.
Rice Leach, MD: Public Health Hero for Lexington and for Kentucky
The KMA Community Connector program is designed to recognize leaders in their community and in medicine. Rice Leach, MD, embodied both to a degree that, with his death April 1, left a void across the Commonwealth, especially in the public health arena.
Dr. Leach was in the first class of Community Connectors in 2014. In addition to serving as Lexington’s commissioner of health in his final years, Dr. Leach had previously served the Commonwealth as public health commissioner from 1992-2004 and the nation as chief of staff to the U.S. Surgeon General.
In March, the Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health presented Dr. Leach, via Skype, the 2016 Public Health Hero award and announced plans to rename the award in his honor.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray thanked Dr. Leach for his service to the city and its residents in a statement issued at the time of the award.
“He truly is a Public Health Hero because he has made Lexington citizens healthier and given them better access to the health care services they need,” Gray said.
Dr. Leach was an active KMA member and had attended the KMA Physicians’ Day at the Capitol event in mid-February, as well as the KMA Public Health Commission meeting that day. Leaders of KMA reacted with sorrow to Dr. Leach’s death.
“I have no adequate words … only sadness for his passing, appreciation for his voice, as well as admiration for a man of integrity and vision with a heart for the people of the Commonwealth,” said Shawn C. Jones, MD, FACS, a former KMA president and vice chair of the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care, which is funding the KMA public health campaign, “Commit to Quit.”
John Johnstone, MD, of Richmond, chair of the KMA Public Health Commission, called Dr. Leach “a gift to Kentucky. He was a very bright, knowledgeable and innovative individual.”
It was that innovation and leadership that, according to a former chair of Lexington’s board of health, saved that city’s health department. Scott White, a Lexington attorney, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Dr. Leach’s leadership spurred recent department initiatives, including integrating safe food trucks into Lexington’s street dining and a needle exchange program designed to combat the spread of blood-borne disease.
Dr. Leach’s affinity for public health was evident in most everything he did. When he was presented with the Public Health Hero Award, he told staff at the Fayette County Health Department: “I think most of you know I have loved working here, love our mission and love all of you.”
He had written a piece, “Kentucky Physicians in Public Health,” for KMA’s 150th anniversary publication, “A History of Medicine in Kentucky 1851-2001,” detailing the history of public health in the Commonwealth.
“The past demonstrated what happens when public health and medical practice join forces,” he wrote, pointing to the new challenges of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. “… The reemergence of this partnership as the Kentucky Medical Association completes 150 years can only bode well for Kentucky as all phases of medicine join forces to confront these new barriers to good health.”
Naren James, MD, of Stanford, a member of KMA’s Public Health Commission said Dr. Leach “will be missed as an unbending advocate for community and public health. Was truly a mentor to me and many others I am sure.”
Besides his commitment to public health, Dr. Leach’s KMA colleagues remembered him as “one of a kind,” in the words of Greg Cooper, MD, of Lexington. “What a great loss for Kentucky medicine!”
Don Neel, MD, formerly of Owensboro, echoed Cooper’s sentiments.
“Rice was a special soul and one of a kind. … He had such a way with words and his wisdom ran deep. He had so many favorite sayings like ‘the canoe doesn't just leak on my side,’” Neel said. “Even if you disagreed with him, you respected his view and perspective which usually was well founded.
“We are all better to have known him and the patients and citizens of Kentucky will miss him,” Neel said.
When Danesh Mazloomdoost, MD, sees the challenges of his high-stress field of pain management medicine as insurmountable, he picks up a camera.
Peering through the lens of his camera gives Dr. Danesh, who minored in photography while at Case Western Reserve University, a more centered focus.
“When I’ve engaged in the arts, I feel like it makes me more acutely aware of the subtle beauty we see every day,” he said. “Connecting with the aesthetics, with the abstract, it allows me to connect with the purpose, the mission of why we’re here.”
Both his parents – mother Camellia Shirazi, MD, and father M. Mazloomdoost, MD – are both physicians practicing in Lexington. They started a multidisciplinary pain clinic when Dr. Danesh was in his pre-teens and spent many of his summers at the clinic. So it would seem natural that he would have followed in their footsteps.
That wasn’t always the case. “I tried my hardest not to!” he admits.
In fact, he majored in medical economics and business management at Case Western, where he had a scholarship and pre-admission to medical school. But he was more interested in health care policy.
“I thought I was going to go into figuring out how we could fix the gaps in health care … the problems of the uninsured and the disparities within health care,” he said.
He was interested, specifically, in operations management – how businesses work together. He saw a correlation to medicine – how the different organ systems keep us alive. So he moved more toward a career in medicine, attending medical school at Johns Hopkins and moving to Cincinnati for internal medicine internship before returning to Johns Hopkins for a residency in anesthesia. But he found he was more interested in the more complex issues of pain, specifically related to cancer, and went to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas for training in pain management.
“I feel like pain is one of those things that everyone will experience, but everyone will experience differently,” he said. “Some people will cope without guidance; some people may need guidance.”
He mentions the adage, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” His goal is to address some of the suffering that comes with pain and help people grow from it.
“There are so many different interpretations of why people have pain,” he said.
That recently evolved into what Dr. Danesh calls “this quandary of the opioid epidemic” that manifested from misunderstandings about chronic opiate exposure and the mismanagement of pain.
“Pain is the way your body communicates with you … it tells you when things aren’t functioning properly,” he said. It’s like the “check engine” light on an automobile – you can either figure out what is causing the light to come on or you can put a black sticker over it, which is what we do with opiates, he said.
“If we treat (pain) like a symptom, we’ll never fix the problem,” he said. “If we delve into the condition that is causing the pain, we’ve got a really good chance at fixing it.”
Dr. Danesh believes that for a long time, physicians were placating pain in some way, but were not well-versed in the best way to sustainably do so. It was more along the lines of a traditional disease-based model of medicine instead of the healthy and preventive model of medicine.
“We’ve gotten so far removed from the overall person that everybody functions in their own small unrelated niche,” he said. “We have to re-examine how health care is delivered and how we’re approaching pain.”
Dr. Danesh likes being involved in organized medicine through the Kentucky Medical Association and the Lexington Medical Society because it brings physicians out of the niches they’ve carved for themselves.
“The communication I have with clinicians when they deal with patients in pain helps me understand the forest from the trees picture on how the opiate problem is developing and what we can do about it,” he said.
Dr. Danesh is passionate about the treatment of pain and sees Kentucky as a sort of ground zero in dealing with the problem of opioid abuse.
“I view Kentucky as being on the cusp of changing this problem or getting the pendulum to swing in the right direction,” he said. “Now, we have to balance how we treat the patients who are physically dependent without introducing more patients into that pipeline while still trying to address the conditions we have.”
It’s a daunting prospect, but Dr. Danesh said KMA’s Community Connector Leadership Program has helped him gain focus.
“I think in medicine, we’ve gotten so busy and so overwhelmed with things that are not value-added components of health care,” he said. “It does take a conscious effort to reconnect with the things that matter to health care.”
Becoming a Community Connector in 2014, he said, helped him do just that. Beyond the educational aspect of the program, he said, “the biggest aspect is connecting with other physicians who are passionate about something they want to change.”
In fact, he and his fiancé, Andrea Omidy PhD, a psychologist who focuses on disordered eating, recently purchased the former Eagle Creek Library in Lexington with the hopes of building a multi-disciplinary wellness center that seeks to redefine health care.
Commission Chair Making a Difference in Public Health
From the earliest he can remember, John Johnstone, MD, always wanted to be a doctor.
In fact, when he was a student at Berea Foundation High School, Johnstone worked in the Berea College Hospital’s housekeeping department, taking out trash “before they had plastic bags.” He chuckles when he says that, illustrating the level at which he started and the path he has traveled to become a leader in health care in Madison County.
He later worked in medical records and then in the laboratory at the hospital while attending Berea College. His father had served as chair of the college’s agriculture department. At Berea College, he met his wife Sandy.
Hanging around the hospital in Berea paid off. Johnstone was admitted to medical school at the University of Louisville, graduating in 1974. He spent three more years at UofL for a fellowship in general internal medicine. Johnstone married Sandy during medical school. The couple has two children – daughter Elise, an Episcopal priest in Lexington, and son Andrew, who works with the Environmental Protection Agency in Durham, N.C., doing research on molecular cellular biology – and two grandchildren.
Degree and experience in hand, Johnstone returned to Berea Hospital – this time fulfilling his dream to be a physician.
He spent 11 years practicing general internal medicine before deciding what he really wanted was to focus on the heart. He returned to Louisville for a fellowship in cardiology. Johnstone saw a need in his home county, which didn’t have a cardiologist to help combat the most common cause of death – heart disease.
“I just looked at it and said, ‘that’s where you can do something and make a difference,’” he said.
He’s making a difference in health care in other ways. Johnstone, who now practices cardiology in Richmond, has served on the Madison County Board of Health from 1978, shortly after he returned to the county to practice medicine, continuously with the exception of the three years he was in Louisville for his cardiology fellowship.
“I really feel that’s what medicine is all about,” Johnstone said. “It’s supposed to be restore, protect and improve health.”
Johnstone now chairs the Madison County Board of Health but was a member of the health board when it passed the smoke-free ordinance, the first county board of health to do so in 2007. He believes that’s the most significant action the board has done in his time on the board.
“I really think we’ve saved more lives than any doctor will ever do in their life by passing that smoke-free regulation,” Johnstone said.
That’s one reason he’s a key player in the Kentucky Medical Association’s current public health campaign, “Commit to Quit.” As president of the Madison County Medical Society, he pushed for the group’s participation in the campaign.
“I feel like in Kentucky, especially, we need to make every possible effort in as many venues as possible to help our citizens stop smoking,” Johnstone said. “As we know, smoking is our biggest public health issue. I think the Commit to Quit program is another weapon we’ve got to help improve the health of all of Kentucky.”
Johnstone is also chair of KMA’s Public Health Commission. He points out the KMA was founded in 1851 as a way to get doctors together to help fight the cholera epidemic. He believes interest in public health is still the primary reason for KMA’s existence.
“We have to fight for our survival in Frankfort for the various and sundry laws, but the real reason (for the KMA) is to improve public health,” Johnstone said. “I firmly believe that.”
He believes a statewide smoke-free law, if it ever passes, would be a turning point for Kentucky.
“Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in this country and it’s the thing I have in my bullseye right now,” said Johnstone.
His goals, however, include several arenas of public health.
“Kentucky has so many challenges that I would like to see the (KMA) Public Health Commission and state Department of Public Health work together to start improving not only smoking, but obesity and diabetes, all the things we’re working on,” he said. “Our greatest accomplishment will be to start chipping away at this very unhealthy lifestyle that plagues so many Kentuckians.”
Community Connector Leadership – Fred Williams, MD
When he was President of the Kentucky Medical Association in 2013-14, Fred Williams, MD, wanted to do something that would help physicians connect with KMA and with their communities.
“The concept is to get docs and people in the community together,” Dr. Williams, an endocrinologist in Louisville, said.
As Williams talked with KMA staff, the idea grew with the recognition that physicians in the commonwealth also could benefit from leadership training. From those early discussions, the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program was born. Dr. Williams was one of nine physicians completing the program in its first year. The Community Connector program aims to develop physician leaders and connect them to their community.
“It’s basically a framework for people to get together. It’s also a way to provide opportunities for physicians to help communities,” said Dr. Williams. “Once physicians interact one on one with people, it changes a lot of perceptions of the whole medical profession.”
Those community relationships are important, Dr. Williams said, as are the relationships physicians build with their patients. As an endocrinologist, Dr. Williams has built long-term relationships with his patients, some of whom he has served for 32 years.
“The thing that gets me excited about going to work has nothing to do with pure science,” he said. “It’s the people that I’ve come to know.”
Dr. Williams has been president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society and KMA, and has served on national boards of various medical societies, but he takes the most pride in the people he cares for.
Dr. Williams saw early in his life the qualities of a good physician. Around the time he graduated from St. X High School, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His endocrinologist in Louisville “interacted with me on a much more personal level.” That relationship, he said, made him feel more comfortable with the physician treating him.
While that physician set the example for traits of a good physician, Dr. Williams was not immediately on the path to becoming an endocrinologist. After graduating from the Vanderbilt University, where he met his wife Sally, Dr. Williams returned to Louisville for medical school. After graduating, he moved to Charlottesville, Va., for residency and fellowship for five years where he fully intended to become a pediatrician or a cardiologist. But he didn’t settle on a specialty until after he worked with several endocrinologists at the University of Virginia.
“I think I’m doing this because I was meant to do this,” said Dr. Williams.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t face frustrations, especially when working with patients who need to lose weight, or trying to inspire some patients to quit smoking. “You have to fight that because if patients sense you’re frustrated, you’re basically pushing them away and you’re not going to be able to help them,” he said.
And the state needs help. “Kentucky is always in the top 10 in things you don’t want to be top 10 in,” he said. It has a strong combination of factors, Dr. Williams said, “that have led to this monumental cascade of health issues.” While the needle is starting to move for improvement, public education is the first step in improving public health.
He believes physicians play a key role in moving that needle, and the KMA Community Connector program can contribute to their efforts.
Working to Keep the Compassion in Medicine
When he was a student at Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s, John Patterson, MD, assumed he would become either a doctor or a lawyer. In fact, he took entrance exams to both medical school and law school while at Vandy.
His acceptance into the University of Tennessee Medical School drove his decision to enter medicine, but his motivation to become a physician grew because the example set by Albert Schweitzer, the noted theologian, pianist, philosopher and physician.
“He had a doctorate in music, a doctorate in theology … and then decided to go to medical school specifically so he could serve in an area of the world that was in desperate need,” Dr. Patterson said. “That was a big inspiration to me.”
Dr. Patterson graduated Vandy in 1970 and had considered staying in college an extra year to study comparative religions, but entered the University of Tennessee Medical School, graduating in 1973. After completing a general internship in Memphis, Dr. Patterson moved to Lexington, where he worked as an emergency physician for two years before completing a family practice residency at the University of Kentucky.
It was then, in 1980, that he followed Dr. Schweitzer’s model and looked for his own community in need. That’s how he ended up serving the medical needs of Estill County for 30 years.
During that service, Dr. Patterson became active in advocacy for public health and was named by KMA as an official liaison between the association and the Health and Agriculture Forum, a group of health advocates and agriculture interests who came to the table with the common goal of protecting youth against tobacco.
When KMA established the Community Connector Leadership Program in 2014, Dr. Patterson signed up because, he said, the program was stressing ideals by which he had long lived. In addition, he said, “I thought it was a way to bond with colleagues who had been doing similar things,” he said. The involvement of the late Rice Leach, MD, a public health champion, solidified his interest in participating in the first class of Community Connectors.
The goal of the program is to connect physician leaders to their communities. Dr. Patterson does that in spades.
While participating in the program, Dr. Patterson suggested to Chris Hickey, executive vice president/CEO of the Lexington Medical Society, the creation of a physician health and well-being initiative, which evolved into the LMS Physician Wellness Program. It was an issue of huge importance to Dr. Patterson.
“I was sensitized to physician burnout and suicide very early in my career,” Dr. Patterson said. A lab partner from medical school committed suicide the year after medical school and another lab partner, he believes, attempted suicide. “I was really struck by the loss and the fact that medicine can cause great harm to its students and residents.”
Medical school and residency, once an all-male domain, was highly competitive in which students and residents were expected to “man up” and deal with the pressures.
“That militaristic style of medical education has been described as a dysfunctional family system where you actually want to hide your vulnerability,” Dr. Patterson said. Emotional vulnerability can stem the promotion and assignments pipeline, he said. “We are human beings and vulnerable by virtue of being human beings.”
The LMS Physician Wellness Program is 100 percent confidential, a criterion Dr. Patterson calls “incredibly important.” He believes the program is vital in the ever-changing, high stress field of medicine.
For the past 14 years, he’s taught a course called “The Healer’s Art: Remembering the Heart in Medicine.” The course, which is taught in more than 100 medical schools, emphasizes the concept of wholeness for physicians.
In addition, he teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction through the UK Wellness Program, and offers a similar class to the community through his office, Mind Body Studio. He also teaches an Argentine Tango class every Friday night.
The concepts of the dance, he said, are similar in important ways to the practice of medicine. It points in the direction of human capacity of compassion, which is why many people get into medicine.
“If we keep alive the flame of compassion that leads us into medicine, we’re more likely to serve our patients well, to serve our staff well and to serve our community well,” he said.
That attitude ties into another effort in which Dr. Patterson is involved. He is working with a group to create Compassionate Lexington, a formal designation created by the Charter for Compassion. Compassionate cities – Louisville has that designation – involve government, medicine, education, social services, businesses and criminal justice, among other groups, in their efforts.
“There’s no better place to demonstrate that compassion is alive and well than in the practice of medicine,” Dr. Patterson said.
LaTonia Sweet, M.D., Sees Need
for Integration of Behavioral, Physical Health
A native of Viper, Ky., in Perry County, Latonia Sweet, M.D., knows firsthand the many health barriers many people in rural parts of the state, and country, face.
“My life expectancy as a woman from Perry County was lower than most everybody in the U.S. in 2012,” said Dr. Sweet, a member of the 2016 class of the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program who was recognized earlier this year by Medical News with the Medistar Physician of the Year award.
She’d like to change the circumstances that contributes to that, part of which, she believes, comes down to behavioral health issues. Dr. Sweet has served as medical director at Bluegrass.org, a nonprofit community mental health center serving central Kentucky, since 2013, where she has worked since before she completed her residency at the University of Kentucky in 2005. Dr. Sweet graduated from Morehead State University, where she was a research assistant on neuroreceptor research, in 1996. She had initially targeted a career in research and planned to complete a doctorate in neuroscience, but chose to attend the University of Kentucky Medical School, from which she graduated in 2001.
But a residency rotation in Powell County swayed her toward becoming an outpatient psychiatrist. She comes from a large family, very impoverished, “poor working class folks like many of the clients I now serve,” she said.
She saw the problems many of those people faced, including substance abuse disorders.
“It became apparent that we were going to lose a whole generation of folks,” Dr. Sweet said. “We see more and more grandparents raising grandchildren because their parents were in jail or dead.”
It’s rewarding, she said, when her patients who are struggling with a substance use disorder turn a corner, “just seeing their lives turn around when they get care. A lot of times, they wouldn’t have gotten help in the past because these are indigent people, rural people who need help.”
“When you have people who are recovering from substance use disorder, see them recovering from horrible medical conditions,” she said. “When you see them and they’re doing well, they have their children, have a job … that’s the best thing you could ever see. It’s amazing.”
Although Dr. Sweet has been the medical director at Bluegrass, she kept her patients in Powell County. She’ll soon be leaving Bluegrass for a position working to integrate the behavioral health component in primary care practices. It’s important, she said, because behavioral health practices can impact physical health. For instance, she said, there is a behavioral health component to helping people manage diabetes or quit smoking.
Volunteer work is important to Dr. Sweet. “I was taught always that the best thing you could ever be is to helpful to someone,” she said.
Those values were instilled in her by her parents, Rick and Connie Rice. Her parents didn’t graduate from high school but “really instilled the need for education. I was told that you will get an education so you don’t have to struggle.” Her parents had obtained their GEDs and furthered their education later in life. Her father was a coal miner who later gained certification to become a mine inspector. Her mother went back to school and became a nurse.
Seeing the struggles of many of her current patients, Dr. Sweet said her work helps her live her values.
“That one of the best ways I think I can be of help to my fellow Kentuckians. Helping people have their best lives … making sure substance use treatment is part of their general health care,” she said.
That requires education of others with whom these patients may come into contact. It’s different, she said, for those who have addictions. “People need to understand the biological changes that take place with this disease,” Dr. Sweet said of these patients. Her volunteer work entails talking with public officials, judges, boards and other physicians about the neurobiology of addiction.
For Dr. Evelyn Montgomery Jones, Leadership Runs in the Family
Evelyn Jones, M.D., believes physicians, by virtue of their positions, are automatically presumed to be leaders in their communities.
Dr. Jones, a 2016 graduate of the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program, should know. Not only has she seen that role firsthand as a dermatologist in Paducah, but she also grew up the daughter of a physician/leader, Wally Montgomery, M.D., a retired general surgeon, who served as 1985-86 KMA president and in other capacities throughout his career.
“Leadership has been in my family for a long time,” Dr. Jones said. “When you’re given a position or just the opportunity to influence others, I was told you do not ever take advantage of that and you humbly serve as a leader for whatever needs are put in front of you.”
Dr. Jones likes the KMA Community Connector program, she said, because “it helps you remember you’re a leader.”
The program, which stresses community as well as medical leadership in its requirements, prompts participants to find outlets in their communities where they can make a difference, Dr. Jones said. She believes that can make a difference in a physician’s outlook on the profession.
“It’s easy to lose the passion of why we enjoy medicine,” Dr. Jones said. Being reminded of their role as a leader, she said, “changes your mindset a little bit. Giving is where you really get such fulfillment and joy.”
That feeling was instilled in Dr. Jones at an early age. She would often go to the hospital to watch her father perform surgeries. She knew then that she wanted to be a physician, and that she wanted some aspect of surgery connected to the specialty she chose. A high school biology teacher allowed her to do some very advanced science projects involving transplantation of a pancreas in guinea pigs.
“My dad would never do any of the work for me, but he taught me how to do the surgery,” Dr. Jones said. “He taught me how to do the suturing. I drew my own blood from guinea pigs.”
While Dr. Montgomery was advising his daughter on the surgeries, her mother, Gerry Montgomery, allowed the family’s home to serve as post-op recovery area for the guinea pigs.
“As a mom now, I realize she was such a jewel and a saint,” Dr. Jones said. “That was an amazing opportunity. For my teacher at the time, the sky was the limit.”
After graduating from Paducah Tilghman High School, Dr. Jones attended Georgetown College then the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Dermatology initially wasn’t on her radar as far as a specialty. She just knew she wanted to do something where surgery was involved. But she also knew she wanted to be a very involved mother, in part because her mother set such a high bar—“My mother was such a wonderful and involved mother,” she said.
When she was exposed to dermatology, Dr. Jones knew that was her calling. It includes a strong surgical component with the different skin cancers she removes. But it also has the added bonus of allowing Dr. Jones to treat a wide range of ages—from young children and teenagers to adults and the elderly.
“I love people and so I love getting to have that exposure,” Dr. Jones said.
But it also gave her the ability to limit her schedule so she could be involved in her children’s lives. She and her husband, Shawn Jones, M.D., have three children—Rebecca, who is working on her PhD at Emory University in Atlanta, Shawn Curtis Jr., a first year medical student at the University of Louisville, and Caleb, a junior at UofL.
Even though the Joneses are empty-nesters, Dr. Evelyn Jones makes sure the home isn’t completely empty. She mentors teenagers and leads Bible studies at her church, Southwest Church of Christ, for adult women and teens. She often has the middle school girls from her church at her home for lessons in etiquette and cooking. They’ll learn to make a casserole and take it to an elderly person or someone who just had a baby in their community.
“We are made to give to others,” Dr. Jones said. “We are not made to be arrogant or prideful or ‘it’s all about us.’”
She carries that philosophy into her office as well. Each year, her office has a theme for the year. At the Christmas party, she reveals the upcoming theme and the team discusses the past year. The 2016 theme was “Legacy” and Dr. Jones’ office had a special intergenerational event for the community. While it included discussions about nutrition and a focus on health and beautiful skin, the key message was stressing value and purpose for each individual. Often, that leads to giving back.
“When we do something for someone else, when we pour into other people, at every age, we are really the ones who gain fulfillment from it,” she said.