Author Archive

Who am I?   Leave a comment

Who am I? What a most excellent question. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy one to answer.

Warning: This post may get too theoretical and off-issue for the casual blog reader. Alternatively, those looking for the highlights, please see my CV.

To the casual observer, I certainly understand how he undergraduate political scientist, Teach For America alumnus, accused medical school “gunner“, and possibly European MBA “corporate shill” may come off a bit disjointed. I would argue that from the right point of view, my professional career-to-date has been a systematic evolution of personal development as I try to reconcile an overwhelming inner desire to serve others with the practical life questions of career choice and personal fulfillment.

I was fortunate to attend a high school that recognized its role as a resource to the surrounding community and made community service a central tenet of its teaching philosophy. Throughout these formative years, I was actively involved in my high school’s community service program ultimately being given an opportunity to shape the greater community service effort of the school.

Although I greatly enjoyed the sort of “hands-on service” I did in high school, college forced me to realize that I ultimately would need to find a profession that helped me serve others while also addressing the practical demands of life. At the time, I was intensely interested in policy work believing that the underlying problems of society could be solved through properly implemented, innovative public policy efforts. This thinking led me to become involved with and ultimately become Publisher of the campus’ political thought magazine as well as focusing my independent work (search “leeds”)on designing political institutions that improved the health and wellbeing of the entire society rather than a select few.

As I became more knowledgeable on the role public policy takes in service to others, I started to question whether the sort of indirect effects and limited success of that role satisfied my sense of moral obligation for serving others. Reevaluating future career options is what led me to complete a pre-med curriculum in addition to my social science major because of the ability of a physician to have a direct, positive effect on each patient seen.

Additionally, I realized I needed to better understand the communities and individuals that I intended to serve. I was fortunate enough to be able to defer my acceptance to Emory’s School of Medicine to spend two years as a corps member with Teach for America where I taught high school science in an underserved community in Memphis, TN. This experience was fundamental to shaping my understanding of how one could both lead a life of hands-on service while at the same time leading an organization whose reach spread across hundreds of communities through the United States.

Upon arriving at Emory, I immediately jumped at the opportunities before me to combine my interest in medicine with my past service work. I became  heavily involved with Emory Medishare, a student group dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the people of Haiti’s Central Plateau region. What has drawn me to international health over the years is the overwhelming need for even the most basic of humanitarian aid. The five trips I have made to date – and those I will make in the future – to Haiti have convinced me of the necessity of our work there.

My role as the group’s Executive Director was to find ways for our work to become a self-sustaining, permanent presence in rural Haiti. We radically expanded our program from a once-a-year presence with our local partners to a cycling of short-term trips and longer-term electives that continue today. These efforts serve as vehicles for clinical research that had led to new health interventions such as community nutrition programs and mental health screening.

Another of Emory’s shining gems is the Global Health Institute. In September 2009, the academic center offered me a position on their Student Advisory Committee that runs the Institute’s student-centered events like the annual Health and Development Symposium and Global Health Case Competition. For the 2010-2011 academic year, I served as chairman of the committee as we continued to develop an independent role within the greater Global Health Institute. Being able to engage such a diverse group of students and faculty involved with interdisciplinary global health work at Emory as been intellectually exhilarating. The Global Health Institute and Emory Medishare have both been formative elements of my Emory experience and have focused the sort of service work I hope to do after I graduate.

It was exactly in this context that I elected to take an additional year to pursue a second degree while in medical school. While extending medical school by a year for an additional degree is not uncommon, choosing an MBA is one of the more unusual degrees of those on offer.  The rationale in pursuing the MBA largely overlaps with many of the interests I explore in this blog. Organizational leadership, operations and implementation, and decision-making under scarcity are real healthcare problems that other degree programs (e.g., MPH, clinical research degrees) are not designed to address. Because my interest in business school lay outside of the mainstream, I purposefully sought out a program structured enough to provide me with the resources I need but still flexible enough that I could forge my own path. At the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, I found the right balance for me. The school’s former dean summed it up perfectly when he described Saïd as a place that can “transcend the traditional, functional divisions of a business school in order to address the complex challenges facing business in the twenty-first century.”

My primary career goal is to remain grounded as an academic clinician in the U.S. while pursuing research and advisory roles with organizations dedicated to improving access to surgical care in under-resourced areas of the world. This academic space desperately needs clinicians who understand the administrative capacity needed for organizational changes. With my combined training, I hope to be able to provide the degree of balanced expertise called for.

Still not following (or not buying) my career trajectory? I recently re-watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech he gave in 2005 recently after recovering from his first cancer diagnosis. As one of the YouTube viewers noted, the content isn’t just advice for Stanford graduates but a blueprint for how Jobs led a life that he found so personally fulfilling. The most memorable piece of the speech for me was the following:

So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Every day I wake up knowing that I am going to be faced with countless decisions. While most decisions will have minimal lasting effect, I know that a handful have the potential to have world-changing consequences for me. I’ve done my best to trust my gut and choose the next “dot” wisely.

Posted January 2, 2012 by Ira Leeds in Introductory Material (For newcomers)

What is (and who is) this blog for?   Leave a comment

This blog is my attempt at highlighting new products, innovative services, and new ways of thinking about healthcare. In my day job as a healthcare provider (currently in training), my colleagues and I are continuously affronted with the best and the worst that American healthcare has to offer. However, the nature of working in academic healthcare is that you are historically rewarded for three things: clinical service (i.e., billing for patients), academic research (i.e., publishing), and education (i.e., teaching medical students and residents). This relatively narrow mandate given the complexities of healthcare often limits a providers incentives to reflect on the industry and the profession more broadly. Hence, one “deep problem” (I expect to write about many more) intrinsic to healthcare is that those most knowledgable about problems are not well-positioned to evaluate them and communicate recommendations to other stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, patients, corporate management, etc.).

Seeing the personal impact of this deep problem on my own career horizon has made me seek out ways of mitigating some of its effects on me. This blog is my effort to more fully engage with the issues of healthcare that I see everyday in clinical settings but whose issues have effects well beyond the walls of the medical center. My goal is to write at a level of analytical depth that college-educated folks can appreciate but avoiding as much technical jargon as possible. Where the science is necessary, I hope to do my best to provide rudimentary explanations that make the issue discussed accessible without oversimplifying. MDs, PhDs, and other terminal degrees in the health sciences, please excuse any unintentional insults these lay explanations may produce, and feel free to challenge me if you think my thesis does not hold up to a more nuanced appraisal of the science under the hood.

The topics I choose for individual blog posts will largely be drawn from my personal research interests which include global health, medical education, and surgical quality initiatives. It is very likely that posts will be prompted by encounters in my everyday professional life, so I ask for readers’ leniency when I digress from these issue areas. Also, I encourage readers to send me topics for future posts.

Politics? Sorry, not playing that game. I’m interested in solutions. We can all agree that people need healthcare and that the current system in the U.S. to provide it has problems. The root of these problems is that healthcare like any industry has scarce resources. I’m not interested in discussing here how those scarce resources should be divided up. Instead, I will focus on what apolitical products, services, and ideas we can use to more effectively use those limited healthcare resources.

Finally, I make no apologies for my writing style. It has been accused of mixing direct clauses with overly complex sentence structure. This is likely due to my longtime enjoyment of Hemingway mixed with an ISTJ personality type that feels the need to analytically cover every aspect of an issue in a single sentence. On top of that, I am prone to the occasional literary flourish that may not fit my otherwise intention to pitch this blog’s style as a casual conversation with my readers. This disclaimer about my writing aside, please engage with me on any matter of content that you find objectionable.

Who is this blog for? Ultimately, anyone willing to consider some of healthcare’s most intractable problems and the solutions proposed by experts and laypeople alike. I do hope as this blog grows that it will be a real conversation where readers regularly respond and future posts of mine incorporate ideas synthesized from these follow-on conversations. Most importantly, I hope you walk away from each read with a better understanding of the state of healthcare today and the potential for making it better in the future.

Logistics: My goal is to post monthly (plus special occasions, of course)…we’ll see how that goes.

Posted December 28, 2011 by Ira Leeds in Introductory Material (For newcomers)