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Three of Life’s Greatest Lessons

June 2017
Marc Moss, MD

Marc Moss, MD

As a child, my mom taught me some very important lessons about life. I think these lessons define who I am and more importantly, who I strive to be.

Lesson 1: Think about others before you think about yourself. It is not about you. Work to make the world a better place.

Lesson 2: Treat all people equally, with respect and kindness.

Lesson 3: Family is the greatest gift. Family members are the ones that you trust implicitly, that you protect, and that you love.

Flash forward to 1988 during my Internal medicine residency. At the time, one of my close friends and college roommates was enrolled in an executive MBA program. He would come down to Philadelphia once a month on weekends, and we would occasionally meet for dinner. During one of my more emotionally challenging rotations (I think it was an oncology ward service), I was starting to question whether all of the hard work during medical school and residency was worth it. One night, my friend really put everything in perspective for me in a very simple manner. He said “In business, I will be judged whether I had a good year based on how much money I make. More money, better year. For you, there is so much more to being a doctor.  A good year is measured by how many patients and families you help, how much you help them, and ultimately how many lives you positively affect.  Help people, a better year.”

Now, health care has clearly evolved and changed over the last three decades. However, I think my roommate’s advice still rings true, and rings true for all health care professionals; not just doctors. We all have a special responsibility to help our patients, improve their health and wellbeing, and sometimes save their lives. Let’s examine these ideas in a bit more depth. We can think about the different roles that we can play as health care professionals, regardless of whether we work in an academic setting, private practice, industry, a government agency, etc. Most ATS members and conference attendees are in some capacity educators, researchers, and clinicians.

As educators, trainees entrust us to teach them how to be the best they can be. We not only get the opportunity to teach them what they need to know, but we also teach them how to do their job. Teaching can be incredibly rewarding and impactful. When we are fortunate, trainees might take a little something that we taught them and then incorporate it into their practice. It might be an easy though simple lesson, such as this one that I was taught in medical school: When you are on morning rounds in the hospital, always sit down in a chair when talking to the patient. Sitting down shows that you are not rushed and that the patient has your undivided attention. Through our teaching efforts, we can positively impact our trainees, who will positively impact their trainees, and on and on. As a result, teaching can have a very broad impact and legacy.

As researchers, we strive to understand complex problems, develop novel therapies, and determine whether these therapies help patients. As researchers, we get to solve mysteries. We try to answer the question “why” — a fun and rewarding endeavor. Funding agencies entrust us with their hard-earned money, or in the case of the NIH we are entrusted with taxpayer’s dollars to advance science and improve patients’ lives. We all have felt this sense of responsibility after we receive the precious funding dollars. We put aside our moments of doubt, and conduct the research with the goal of improving patient care. We make discoveries and publish the findings. These articles can have a positive legacy by stimulating other researchers to think about problems in new ways, and make additional discoveries. Collectively and collaboratively, research improves patient care.

As clinicians, our patients entrust us to care for them. I do all my clinical time in the intensive care unit.  Sometimes my first meeting or conversation is after a catastrophic event has occurred. The first conversation is usually with the patient’s family who are completely distraught and worried about their loved one. Most of the time, this is the first time I have cared for the patient or met their family.  We sit down, introduce ourselves and then have a heart-felt and emotional conversation about the patient’s condition.   At some point during that conversation, a bond develops. The patient’s family entrusts us with the care of their loved one. What a responsibility, what a privilege.  Again, there can be a positive legacy to caring for patients.  When we properly care for our patients we also help their family, friends, and community.

As my roommate said: “A good year is measured by how many patients and families you help, how much you help them, and ultimately how many lives you positively affect. Help people, a better year.” We are truly privileged to be researchers, educators, and health care professionals. You might be thinking right now, what does any of this have to do with the ATS.  So let’s see how I can hopefully connect back to the lessons that I was taught as a child.

Work to make the world a better place

The impact of the ATS is enormous. The Society influences all three of the roles (clinician, researcher, and educator) that we perform each day. The ATS conferences, journals, and documents train clinicians about the latest advances in our field. The ATS research Foundation raises money to stimulate and encourage early career investigators to continue the pursuit of conducting meaningful research. The ATS has also a strong and growing medical education section, and the ATS conducts courses around the world that build resource capacity in lower and middle income countries.  In addition, our advocacy efforts help inform national and international policies. The ATS tagline is “We help the world breathe.” We take this responsibility very seriously, and our society is improving respiratory health around the globe.

Treat all people equally with respect and kindness

Diversity means a lot of things to different people. The ATS is and always will be a very welcoming society. We strive to ensure that we are inclusive of all of our current and future members. We embrace diversity in our committees, assemblies, and leadership positions. Our ATS interest groups serve as a resource to enhance career development for all of our members, and our ATS committees are working hard to reduce health disparities for all of our patients.

Family is the greatest gift

When we ask our hospitalized patients what they want, they all say the same thing:  they want to go home. Home is familiar, comfortable, and safe. Home is where your family is. The ATS is the home for pulmonary, critical care, and sleep health care professionals. The ATS connects us to one another, through our assemblies, sections, working groups, editorial boards, committees, and task forces. Since 1992 when I attended my first International Conference, the ATS has been my academic home and has clearly played a pivotal role in my career development. Because of the ATS, I have participated in national and international initiatives, developed research collaborations, and most importantly made some very close friends. The ATS provides a sense of community, a sense of a family.

As members of the ATS Leadership, we are very honored to serve all our members and help the pulmonary, critical care, and sleep community to build the ATS legacy. I think we have been and will continue to be a cohesive team. I am glad to report that the ATS is doing very well: the membership is growing, the meeting has been a resounding success, the journals are strong, the documents and guidelines are booming, and our financial reserves are growing. As a result, the ATS will be able to do even more. We will continue to build on our successes, and we are going to stay to our current course: expand and improve our educational opportunities, enhance our ability to disseminate and implement our guidelines, upgrade our technology infrastructure, and ultimately ensure that we are providing what our members want and need. If we do our job properly, we can fulfill the mission that our patients entrusted us to do: to improve their health and wellbeing. That is what makes being a pulmonary, critical care, and sleep health care professional and a member of the ATS so important.

So thanks for supporting the ATS, for helping to build our shared legacy, and for being a part of this family.

Last Reviewed: September 2017