Suppose Malcolm Gladwell Was on the Admissions Committee: Are We Ready to Be Bold?

Suppose Malcolm Gladwell Was on the Admissions Committee: Are We Ready to Be Bold?

Suppose Malcolm Gladwell was on the admissions committee of our medical college? I asked the author that question on stage at a recent event by the Philadelphia Arts and Business Council, while talking about Gladwell’s book, “David and Goliath.”

As you would expect, the author of some of the best read books of our times started with a story about people – his parents, now at the age of regular encounters with the health care system.

“They want someone who listens to them and appreciates them, and looks them in the eye the whole time,” Gladwell said. “There’s a growing disconnect between what patients want from their doctors and what qualities medical schools are selecting for.”

So, why is it so hard for us as academic healthcare leaders to adjust to this ever-changing reality and paradigm shift? Medical knowledge has increased a thousand fold in the last few years and it is almost a certainty that in the not too distant future we will be accompanied by robots or supercomputers and the key to being a good physician will be your ability to work as a team, your ability to observe and communicate…oh yes, and as Malcolm recognized your self-awareness and empathy skills.

This is the beautiful paradox of medicine: It takes emotional intelligence to handle high tech. We are entering an unprecedented age of constant discovery – daily revelations of how our DNA interacts with social triggers of disease, recovery and health. The trick, as Gladwell put it, is to use our computing power to ease the burden of memorizing everything and instead develop our abilities to help our patients create meaning from that data.

The book, “David and Goliath,” suggests lessons for those of us in higher education as we select and train students. Diversity and life experiences help us embrace human beings – and they teach resilience. Disadvantage may be advantageous. Immobility loses; nimbleness wins.

And as leaders of academic healthcare institutions, Gladwell’s most critical point was the need to protect legitimacy – to keep our end of the bargain with people by making health care fair, trustworthy, and respectful. The only way to accomplish these goals will be to recognize that “shift happens” and the paradigm shift is NOW. As academic healthcare leaders are we ready to take the bold steps toward preparing our students to be Davids and not Goliaths?