President’s Message

Posted on May 3, 2021 in President's Message | 0 comments

In the canopied forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo lives a rather unusual species of primate, the bonobos. Though by outward appearance resembling chimpanzees, albeit slightly smaller, the bonobo is a distinctly different species.  What is curious about them is not so much their physiology or genetics – they share almost 99% of the human genome – but rather in their social structure, and how they might serve to reflect the more enlightened aspects of human society.

Bonobos are unique in that their society is primarily matriarchal; a female is universally the leader of the group. As a result, infanticide is unheard of, and warring with rival groups similarly rare. And perhaps more importantly, bonobos are renown for being willing to share scarce resources such as food, and even more willing to be gracious to strangers than those within their immediate family. Chimpanzees on the other hand live in a male dominated society, are beset by frequent warring between clans, and when individual chimpanzees are presented with a scarce resource, they will usually keep it to themselves.

This translates into communication skills as well. Bonobos typically resolve conflict through mediation, and often sexual behaviors, while chimpanzees resort to physical fighting. As a result, bonobos are quite good at reading social cues. In an experiment in which a tasty treat was hidden underneath one of several cups, chimpanzees consistently chose at random which cup may be hiding the treat, while bonobos looked at the human to see if there were visual or gestural cues that would hint at the true location of the treat.

How does this relate to us, and specifically in medicine?

On the best days, we are bonobos. We cooperate towards a common goal. We are nice to strangers and can display both empathy and sympathy. When we are faced with conflict, we try to resolve issues without anger and physical confrontation. We can display incredible acts of heroism in kindness. As Michael Jackson so eloquently expressed to Paul McCartney in “The Girl is Mine” – “Paul, I think I told you, I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

Margaret Chiu, the leader of the ABSMC Gender Equity Taskforce, has the following thoughts:

The covid-19 pandemic has forced us to change and adapt many aspects of our lives both personal and professional. While thrusted upon us by unfortunate circumstances, some of these changes are positive and show how we can continue to improve work-life balance even after the pandemic is over. In the Gender Equity Task Force on occupational burnout, physicians have commented on what an outstanding job the schedulers in the Emergency Department and the Hospitalist groups have done in taking into consideration differing needs of members of the group.

In the context of the pandemic, “some clinicians required more evening/weekend shifts to ensure appropriate child care coverage, while others needed extended time in between shifts to quarantine before meeting older, high-risk family members” shares Dr. Manj Gunawardane, Summit’s Hospitalist Director. Typically, schedules are designed to produce equitable results where the concept of equitable means all shifts are shared equally across nights, weekends, and holidays. Dr. Aaron Barber, the scheduler for Berkeley Emergency Medicine Group, shares about their group’s ability to adapt to the needs of their providers. “Most groups of physicians include providers who have many different scheduling goals. If an equitable schedule is instead thought of as one that meets the goals of providers… then it’s fairness depends on the members’ satisfaction with the schedule … If the scheduling method is transparent and providers feel that the burden is shared, then we gain the flexibility to adjust for individual needs. We have been able to accommodate providers who want a temporary fixed schedule, extended time off, and shift time restrictions.”  

The pandemic has scrambled lives and required a reordering of priorities for most clinicians. Providing individuals flexibility in their work schedules to accommodate for evolving obligations helps mitigate anxiety and stress, which in turn has significant impacts on quality of life, job satisfaction, and reducing burn out. The schedulers in the Emergency Department and Hospital Medicine groups had to stretch themselves and their processes to be nimble and elastic. They  deserve recognition for the wonderful job they’ve done adapting to the evolving times and supporting their front line clinicians. In addition, every group has its own set of scheduling challenges and schedulers who are working hard to meet the dynamic needs of their group. Your work is appreciated! We’re all eager to see the pandemic in the rear view mirror of history, but let’s hold onto the lessons we’ve learned from it. Let’s build on the spirit of understanding and flexibility, putting compassion first as we help all of our members live their best lives. 

Next week is Nurses Week, May 6-May 12.

Here is an opportunity to show your nurses appreciation through a focused recognition app!

For iOS users:

For Android users:

Jeff Chen MD, MPH, FACEP
Chief of Staff, ABSMC Summit Campus

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