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Dear Resident Physicians

Servant Leader Physicians
Micha Klootwijk/

Dear Fledgling Attendings,

Soon you’ll finish residency and you may be wondering, “What’s next?” Some of you will start fellowships, but most of you will practice your specialty. You may be looking for opportunities that are a good match with your needs and wants. Virtually all of you are looking forward to greater income. I hope that this ending is also a beginning – renew your commitment to the life-long learning that is medicine.

One of the current concerns of our society is the possibility of a physician shortage. Physician “burnout” is getting more attention and action then ever before. You can’t find a highly regarded journal that doesn’t address this problem in almost every issue. I’d like to tell you about thriving in practice, rather than just surviving.

Mahatma Gandhi made it his mission to spread the word. John C. Maxwell built an empire on the concept. Martin Luther King, Jr. made it his mission to inspire it in multitudes. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner [When Bad Things Happen to Good People] became an authority on the topic. It exalted Mother Teresa to sainthood. Dr. Francis W. Peabody described it in a paper that has become the most cited, and most revered, article in the medical literature.

All these people achieved success; all are renowned as leaders. In each one, leadership was born of servanthood.

Robert K. Greenleaf is credited with launching the modern movement of servant leadership, starting with the 1970 publication of his classic essay “The Servant as Leader.” He coined the terms servant leader and servant leadership. The “servant’s heart” is a fundamental characteristic of a servant leader. The conscious choice to serve ignites an aspiration to lead. It contrasts with those who want to be leaders to experience power or acquire material possessions. The servant first wants to make sure that the needs of family, patients, colleagues, and community are served. You will see those you serve grow as persons, becoming healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous. You’ll experience a soul-deep fulfillment that you didn’t know was possible.

Serving isn’t about being servile or about false humility. It does not mean being submissive or weak. It does not mean dictating or dominating. It does not mean self-denial or neglecting family. One of the most important ways you serve your patients will be as a living example. Care for your family first, whatever constitutes family to you. Eat good food, exercise, play, rest, and explore what spirituality means to you.

Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

John C. Maxwell: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner: “Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people brings happiness.”

Mother Teresa: “Three things in life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

Dr. Francis W. Peabody: “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

Dr. Faith A. Coleman: “You cannot out-give to your patients what your patients give to you.”

[Disclaimer: I do not attribute to myself the leadership or greatness of the people quoted above.]

All that being said – don’t take yourself too seriously.


Faith A. Coleman MD

June 14, 2018

Posted In

About Faith A. Coleman M.D.

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Her experience includes faculty appointments to a family practice residency and three medical schools, as well as Director of Women's and Children's Health Promotion Programs with the NE Texas Public Health District.

Dr. Coleman is the Expert on Gifted Children for the New York Times, parenting writer for Demand Media Studios, as well as health and medical writer for several online information services. She writes professional management material for health care providers and about the personal experience of being a physician. Faith treasures most the role of mother. Her passions include the well-being and education of children and families.