Last winter, NYU Langone Health leader Steven Abramson, MD, spoke to first-year medical students about what he’s learned from nearly five decades as a distinguished clinician, researcher, and educator. The conversation was part of NYU School of Medicine’s Leaders and Teams lecture series. Here are a few highlights.
Learning how to care for people is a unique privilege. Medicine is the only profession that is sworn to a 2,500-year-old oath, the Hippocratic Oath, which requires physicians to uphold certain ethical standards.
Those ancient words still define principles of the profession today. There’s something very special about being a doctor, and that brings obligations regarding how we behave, not just with our patients but with everyone.
“There’s something very special about being a doctor, and that brings obligations regarding how we behave, not just with our patients but with everyone.”—Dr. Steven B. Abramson, the Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine and Chair of the Department of Medicine
When new doctors doubt their skills, they should trust in their ability to become accomplished physicians. After I graduated from medical school, the most terrifying day was July 1, the day I became an intern. I thought, “Will I be able to take care of patients?” I learned I could, but it took months to gain that confidence.
Almost every patient can inspire a research question. We tend to think that we know everything about the conditions we’re treating. If a patient has congestive heart failure, we treat it with certain drugs. But in reality, there are very few diseases that we treat as well as we should; and very few diseases that we can cure. There’s so much that needs to be done on the research side to improve patient care.
Role models are essential. A mentor can help you navigate your career and think critically about your profession. I’ve been fortunate to have several role models. During my early training, Saul Farber, MD, former chair of the Department of Medicine and dean of NYU School of Medicine, taught the importance of education and the physician’s responsibility to medicine as a profession. Gerry Weissmann, MD, my predecessor as director of rheumatology, embodied enduring passion for science and knowledge. And Dean Grossman, another longtime mentor, has epitomized the importance of the continual resolve for excellence.
Commit to your work. When you bring effort and dedication to your job—and you do it well—leadership opportunities will come to you.
To be a leader, you need listening skills and emotional intelligence. But more important, you need a sense of where your group needs to go, what’s on the horizon, and how to get there. You need vision.
Hire people who are smarter than you. You want people with expertise greater than your own who say, “I did everything you asked, and by the way, I did this, that, and the other thing.” Those types of people deliver ideas you hadn’t thought of before. They make you better.
Make every encounter with a patient or colleague as positive as possible. When a physician leaves the room, the patient—no matter how sick—should feel as if there is a little more hope in the room than when he or she first came in. You can’t be perfect.
There will be frustrations. But if you’re in a position of authority, you have an obligation to help others when possible.
I try to say thank you several times each day, since my success is so dependent on the contributions of others.