Warren Jones, M.D., addresses colleagues during the opening session of the National Conference of Constituency Leaders, urging family physicians to "lead from the front."
The first day of the newly named National Conference of Constituency Leaders opened here with a plenary that featured AAFP Past President Warren Jones, M.D., of Ridgeland, Miss.
Jones, who took the reins as the Academy's 55th president in October 2001, immediately captured the full attention of the packed ballroom on April 30 when he scanned the crowd from the podium and announced, "I look around this room, and I say, 'I'm home.'"
A retired captain in the U.S. Navy, Jones is professor emeritus in family medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and serves as the NIH Endowed Chair in Health Disparities Research at Dillard University in New Orleans.
His message focused on leadership, and he ran through a list of inspiring moments in the AAFP's history, beginning with the organization's founding in 1947 as the American Academy of General Practice. That name stood until Oct. 3, 1971, when it changed to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Throughout the AAFP's history, said Jones, "Our Academy has not been afraid to change; it's led change."
- The National Conference of Constituency Leaders opened on April 30 with a plenary featuring AAFP Past President Warren Jones, M.D.
- Jones' message focused on leadership, and he noted that the Academy had led change and trained leaders throughout the years.
- He challenged attendees to explore leadership styles, mentor others to bring them into leadership roles and work to achieve cultural proficiency in their practices.
It was during his military career, he said, that he was introduced to "situational leadership," a model that focuses on varying levels of delegating, supporting, coaching and directing others.
"Leadership styles are critically important," said Jones. "While you're here, explore the different styles and determine what works best for you."
Quoting Danish military officer Soren Sjogren, who said, "Leaders are defined by actions, not words," Jones implored his audience to "Start taking action, and lead from the front every day."
"By virtue of you being here, you've decided to do that," he said.
Pay Attention to Patients
Jones also spoke of the social determinants of health that keep patients from accessing the resources they need to stay healthy, as well as the ethos of family physicians that compels them to pay careful attention to the patients who come to them for care.
"People just want you to look at them, listen to them and touch them," said Jones. For example, family physicians know their patients would have a better chance of controlling their diabetes if only they could afford proper medications and healthy food.
"If they had the right resources, we could help them manage their hypertension," he said.
Every patient's situation is different, and it's the physician's job to find out what's happening to a particular patient or family, said Jones.
Samuela Manages, M.D., is one of many family physicians eager to talk with plenary speaker Warren Jones, M.D., after his April 30 NCCL presentation.
Jones recounted a time during his military career when a Marine colonel visited his office. "As he started to leave, I sensed something wasn't right. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he reached over and embraced me. He was going through a lot, but the requirements of his rank meant he couldn't show that to everyone.
"In our office was that safe place," said Jones.
Pursue Cultural Proficiency
Noting the sea of diverse faces in the audience, Jones observed that it is from that very diversity that family physicians derive their strength and their ability to tackle disparities in health care in the communities where they live and practice.
Acknowledging and addressing differences in the quality of health care across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups is critically important, said Jones, because "The key to a healthy nation is the elimination of health care disparities." And understanding cultural differences is part of the solution, he added.
"We have to be able to aid patients by paying attention to their culture," said Jones. Noting the changing demographics of America's landscape, he pointed out that experts estimate that by 2050, minorities would constitute half of the total population.
"We've got to go from cultural competency to cultural proficiency," said Jones.
It's a skill set that requires a physician to be able to listen with empathy, explain his or her perceptions of a problem, acknowledge and discuss differences, recommend treatment that considers the patient's cultural parameters, and negotiate a treatment that fits the patient's cultural framework.
"Residents have to show how many procedures they've done (to demonstrate competency), but cultural proficiency is not something you can check off a list," said Jones. Achieving proficiency takes training, and NCCL offers the best opportunity for that training, he added.
It's also a place where family physicians learn how to be leaders, according to Jones. "Chapter leadership largely originates from this conference," he said. "We trained here, went back to our chapters, and we served."
Building relationships is a key component of leadership, Jones said, and he asked for a show of hands of those who carried a stack of their business cards with them to Kansas City.
"Don't go home with your business cards," he advised.
Become mentors to others who could use some guidance, Jones urged his colleagues, and look for "that person who has those unique leadership skills."
"Work with that interested person -- that lump of coal -- and watch that lump of coal become a valuable gem," he said.
Take advantage of the new opportunities that occur every day, Jones concluded, because history can't be rewritten. "We have to be able to see what is around us, and act on what we see," he said.
"There are no new problems, just new people repeating them," said Jones. "We're going to be the new people bringing the solutions."
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