Administrative Update: The Legacy of Gopal

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October 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 10
Administrative Update: The Legacy of Gopal Jeffrey S. Plagenhoef, M.D
Assistant Secretary

Over the time that I thought about the subject of this article, very serious challenges for all physician anesthesiologists kept popping up from multiple directions. Very disconcerting viewpoints have been heard on several ASA conference calls. Within my practice group, we are challenged to create consensus for supporting ever-increasing volumes of nonclinical work essential to our future. Within the Alabama State Society of Anesthesiologists (ASSA) we are working aggressively to address recent announcements of major changes in payment by both Medicaid and our largest private payer. A few ASSA members have called expressing protests related to health care reform and ASSA/ASA responses. One caller predicted it would all be over for us in 10-15 years and said he is quitting. Another conveyed that “rank-and-file members don’t think the leaders in our specialty are doing enough to protect the specialty.”

With issues presenting with escalating frequency and exponentially greater complexity, the forecast is gloomy if everyone doesn’t contribute personally to the solution. As I consider this, I cannot help feeling deep gratitude and respect for one of my partners.

Puli Gopal Reddy, M.D. immigrated to the United States in 1975 and completed anesthesiology residency at Mount Sinai in New York. This year marks Dr. Reddy’s 35th as a staff anesthesiologist at Southeast Alabama Medical Center. The month of this mailing celebrates Gopal’s 73rd birthday and his retirement. Truth be told, if every group had a few Gopals, the chances of the ASSA and the ASA “doing enough to protect our specialty” would be much greater.

While Gopal says he doesn’t have the ability to serve in leadership roles, he never uses that as justification for not giving extra. What separates him distinctly from many physician anesthesiologists is his eager and persistent willingness to do what he can to contribute to the solution he happily works extra time to cover any partner needing to accom-plish any sort of administrative, leadership or advocacy work. He doesn’t whine when asked – he considers it his duty to help protect our patients, our specialty, our department and our group.

There are two shining examples of Gopal’s leadership style. Since 2004 when I became an ASA Director, my committed colleague has enabled my efforts to represent Alabama at ASA Board of Director meetings. He reliably shows up in the O.R. to relieve me before call is over (4:20 a.m.) so I can catch the 5:30 a.m.flight to allow on-time arrival. He refuses any sort of time or money payback and does this willingly and with a smile because, like all servant hearts, he is happiest helping. Second, when Gopal hears that it is time to give to the ASA Political Action Committtee, he hands me his credit card and says, “Let me help, too, and at the $1,000-level.”

Gopal doesn’t do the specific work of the Board of Directors, and he doesn’t do the lobbying of advocacy, but with exemplary donations of his personal time and money he helps make both happen. Gopal’s willingness to always serve as “supporting cast” is a shining example for many to follow. Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Gopal, we thank you for your example and its influence.

With our challenges and opportunities greater than ever, anesthesiologists have three categories of response: 1) stay the course, with everyone doing no more than what they have been; 2) quit trying because it’s too late; and 3) change what we are doing and how we are doing it, redouble every effort currently being made by a relatively few ASA members, and strategize as to how we can activate the majority of anesthesiologists who are complacent or apathetic. Options 1 and 2, in effect, are equivalent. Continuing with the status quo is not an option! Answer this question honestly: Are you complacent, apathetic and a quitter, or do you believe we should >all work harder for our patients and our specialty?

When ASA members say their state component and/or ASA isn’t doing enough for them, I recognize one of our highest hurdles – a pervasive disconnect from reality. Reality is that ASA is >you! It is an organization made up of us, and for us. Almost all of us perform clinical work, but how many of us perform and give time and money to support all of the nonclinical work that is absolutely and inarguably essential to our future existence? Ask yourself, do I do enough? If you aren’t exhibiting some degree of professional citizenship by giving back to your profession, please do not criticize any of your colleagues who are at least trying to chip in (even if you think they should be doing even more, or better, for you). Be part of the solution – get involved.

Every anesthesiologist in the country should be contributing his or her fair share outside of the O.R.s, labs, pain clinics and ICUs. There has never been a more important time for leaders, and supporters of leaders, to step up. The administrative, leadership and advocacy demands that face us all are innumerable. It is no more a professional duty and obligation of current local, state and ASA volunteer leaders to be giving of their time beyond normal clinical hours to work for our survival than it is every other anesthesiologist in the country – regardless of practice paradigm. Too many of us do nothing extra to be part of the solution. And of those not supporting nonclinical needs, some have the audacity to project blame for our imperfect world on colleagues who are at least trying to help. We need everyone’s ideas, energy and financial support if we want to realize our greatest potential to secure the future. Winston Churchill said, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.”

Now you know Gopal’s legacy. You will leave a legacy. What will be yours – contributor to the solution, team player, or not? Professional contributions come in many forms – serve wherever your gifts and talents allow.

Jeffrey S. Plagenhoef, M.D. is President, Anesthesia Consultants Medical Group, Southeast Alabama Medical Center, Dothan, Alabama.