Skip to main content

We come to life with those we serve: A unique perspective from Dr. Richard Gunderman

Dr. Gunderman Teaching_22.edit

In his most recent book, We Come to Life with Those We Serve, Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, IU Chancellor’s professor and John Campbell professor of radiology, argues that the metrics of money, awards, and making top 10 lists often obscure opportunities to make a difference. While the book touches on themes outside of medicine, Gunderman argues that dedication to service is crucial for students and physicians today:

Dr. Gunderman, your new book discusses the importance of service; what situations caused you to ask this question of yourself and colleagues?

In healthcare, we’ve become so focused on data and the systems we use to monitor them that we lose sight of patients. My experience as a physician leads me to believe that we need reminders of why we are here. We are not primarily business people who deliver healthcare; we are health professionals who work in organizations that operate like businesses. The nature of our professional role gives us the opportunity to put service first.

Talk about medicine as an avenue toward service.

Medicine is about service. We serve patients and their families. We serve the health professions and our colleagues. We serve communities. And the more effectively we serve, the better we perform at fulfilling our professional missions. This requires that we know those we serve and make the best use of our knowledge, skill and compassion in meeting their needs. What a privilege it is to work on the side of the angels most of the time – to be paid for making the biggest difference we can in service of others.

How can we improve medical education to exhibit the value of service?

We need to keep those we serve at the center of our work as educators. We need to ensure that learners develop their capacity to listen well, deepening their understanding of what patients and families are going through. Perhaps above all, we need to cultivate the common humanity that binds patients and healers together. We are all cut from the same cloth, and even physicians eventually fall sick and die. One way we did this recently was to invite a resident who had been diagnosed and treated for cancer to share their experiences with colleagues. Hearing a fellow physician describe their illness helped bring the universality of disease and mortality home to all of us.

What causes us to focus more heavily on the metrics vs. patients? How do we shift this focus?

Business metrics are the easiest to track and many of us have adopted hook, line and sinker– the view that what cannot be measured cannot be managed. But of course we manage many aspects of our lives – our marriages, our relationships with our parents and children and our friendships— without constantly measuring them. In fact, the very attempt to assess something like a marriage by strictly quantitative data betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what marriage is. Something similar can be said about good patient care. There is a bigger story than the data alone can tell.

What resources does IU School of Medicine offer its students, faculty and staff to recognize the importance of service and the sense of fulfillment it offers?

There are many opportunities. One is the Student Outreach Clinic which is held on Saturdays at the Neighborhood Fellowship Church on East 10th Street here in Indianapolis. Another is the annual FIRM (Finding Inspiration and Resilience in Medicine) conference, which is held every year in the spring – this year, at Marian College of Osteopathic Medicine. But these are just two of many such opportunities. We are blessed with an abundance of them.

Learn more about Dr. Gunderman’s book, We Come to Life with Those We Serve.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Sonder Collins

Communications Coordinator

Having joined IU School of Medicine in 2016, Sonder uses a poetry and theatre background to help bridge the academic world with the creative. A graduate of University of Evansville, he works with faculty and academic staff to formulate unique, marketing ideas that engage the public with innovative research at IU School of Medicine. From writing stories on groundbreaking equipment to orchestrating digital marketing strategies, Sonder collaborates with experts across the school to help departments thrive in their marketing and communication ambitions.