I have many loves in family medicine. I love delivering a newborn directly into a mother's arms. I love excisional biopsies of funny looking moles. I love giving someone hope after a chronic disease diagnosis.
What I love most, however, is community-based preventive medicine. As such, I wrangled a contract directly out of residency that is 20 percent population medicine. (Lesson No. 1: Ask for what you want. You might actually get it).
As part of this endeavor, I am pursuing a master's degree in public health. I hope to use this training to make connections in the world of public health policy; to learn how to create, implement, message and evaluate programming; and perhaps to eventually break into creation of, or participation in, policy. I will have some required coursework in, for example, biostatistics and epidemiology, but I will also have myriad electives on topics like environmental public health and behavioral economics.
Throughout the course of my program, I hope to distill the most useful-to-the-family-medicine-doc public health pearls from my classes and pass them along. This post is the first in this series. Thus far, I have taken courses on problem-solving in public health and intro to persuasive communication.
The course on problem-solving in public health taught me two things: a remarkably egalitarian way to run a meeting and a systematic approach to solving problems.
In this setup for running a meeting, start by imagining a group of eight people. During each session, one of them is the moderator, one a notetaker and one a timekeeper. The moderator's job is to decide how long each part of the session ought to take, and the timekeeper's job is to cut people off once time is reached. The notetaker … takes notes.
Each meeting uses the following series of steps, and as participants get used to the process, they get faster and more efficient.
The NGT is delightfully efficient and focused. Moreover, it imposes a thoughtful, respectful and inclusive methodology to traditionally explosive or at least controversial topics. By using this technique, you can assure all members of the group that each of their voices will be heard with equal weight, as will also be the case in the problem-solving process below.
Usually applied to public health problems, this series of steps offers a framework through which one can approach just about any problem that involves groups of people. Whether your problem is developing a group visit program or decreasing smoking in pregnant women, you can approach the problem with success in this way. Notably, this process works well in combination with the NGT.
I already have used each of these techniques to great effect. By addressing problems in this step-by-step fashion, I find myself suddenly more organized, and you know what that means: more time for more projects!
Just kidding. I get to read books for fun these days and go on long runs. It is amazing.
Stewart Decker, M.D., is a family physician practicing in southern Oregon. He focuses on the intersection of public health and primary care. You can follow him on Twitter at @drstewartdecker.