Physicians are privileged to see patients at their most vulnerable, to reshape lives and continually revitalize the nation’s health system. In a challenging practice environment, physicians remain driven by the power of healing and the indelible connections they form with patients and families.
The AMA Wire® “When I Knew Medicine Was My Calling” series profiles a wide variety of doctors, offering a glimpse into the lives of the busy women and men navigating new courses in their careers and in American medicine. No matter their age, their specialty or their career stage, they were born to do this and they tell us why.
Share a moment with: James L. Madara, MD, CEO and executive vice president of the AMA, Chicago.
I was born to: Be a physician.
The moment I knew medicine was my calling: In the sixth grade, I suffered a serious illness and had to be hospitalized for many weeks. As I lay in my bed, I knew I wanted to make a career of helping others get well and stay well.
An experience from residency that confirmed my calling as a physician: I was hooked when I read the first paper to report a chromosomal translocation as the basis of a particular form of leukemia.
An experience from medical school that kept me going: I had great times with my housemates, who also were medical students.
My source of inspiration: The size of the opportunity before us: to help reform a system that is responsible for the health of 320 million Americans.
My hope for the future of medicine: A connected system that provides continuity of care, new and validated digital and other technological approaches all of which make the practice of medicine much more enjoyable and fulfilling, not just for us but also for patients
The hardest moment in medicine and how I got past it: What field to choose. I was definite at one time or another about pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, psychiatry and radiation oncology. I settled on the latter, but then an early exposure in my first year of residency redirected me to pathology as a field where one studied the molecular basis of disease.
My favorite experience working with the medical team: I most enjoyed interacting with my residency colleagues. It was a lot fun.
The most challenging aspects of caring for patients: As a health system CEO, recognizing the responsibility to bias the system toward the optimal outcome for our patients.
The most rewarding aspect of caring for patients: Again, as a health system CEO, watching patients being discharged and leaving—healed—back to their families.
The skills every physician should have but won’t be tested for on the board exam: Every doctor needs to work well within a team, communicate effectively and have deep empathic capabilities.
One question every student should ask themselves before pursuing medicine: Why do I want to do this? It’s hard work and a big time commitment to become a physician, so be sure you have an answer you find internally compelling.
A quick insight I’d give students who are considering medicine: Define for yourself why you want to do this, do it privately and make sure it makes sense to you internally.
Mantra I use to describe my life in medicine: There are several: “Take the high road,” “Life is too short, so enjoy it,” and, especially, “Don’t be afraid of being caught in the truth.” That last one is because everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, so don’t fear being honest about it.
Editor’s note: The “When I Knew Medicine Was My Calling” story series is being launched alongside the AMA’s brand initiative. The initiative strives to show physicians, residents and medical students how the AMA listens, supports and empowers them to succeed throughout their unique journeys with timely and relevant resources. Read this Viewpoints column by Dr. Madara for more information.