As the President of MSD, I have greatly enjoyed the interactions I have had with colleagues, legislators, our legal team, and MSD staff. I am learning daily and enjoying every minute of it. I have appreciated the power of engagement, the tension associated with disagreement, and the subsequent education I have received.

Additionally, I hope our members and nonmembers alike, and even non-physicians, are realizing the need to work together for common goals. Only in this way can we serve our patients and communities better. We serve with strength, fortitude, and calmness. Always in the background is hope for a better world, one in which we treat others as we would want to be treated. A world of tolerance, a climate of understanding, a state of peacefulness.

Various conversations over the time I have been President have led me to wonder why we cannot work together more closely. I first realized this difficulty when COVID-19 raised its ugly head. With mandates subsequently forthcoming about masking, social distancing, and testing we started to pull away from each other. When vaccinations arrived in our midst, things ramped up tremendously. Our world turned upside down and many spoke out loudly about the need for safety versus the rights of the individual.

However, it has not just been COVID-19 that has given me pause. Racism, unconscious bias, fatigue, burnout among physicians, and more have led to further splintering, lack of cohesiveness, and at times significant misunderstanding. As a result, many have thrown up their hands and walked away from the table. It is easier for some to not wish to engage but to leave the discussion. Subsequently, we all lose as we lack the dissenters’ voices and concerns. 

From time to time, I have thought about President Abraham Lincoln and how challenging it must have been for him. I have often thought of him when dissent among us has arisen. 

During the 1860 election, Lincoln faced various rivals in the Republican Party for the Presidency. These included William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Simon Cameron, and Edward Bates. Ultimately, these men were placed in Lincoln’s cabinet in spite of their tremendous disagreements and dislike for one another. 

As a result of these choices by Lincoln, the country moved ahead and Lincoln was seen as a positive force in these efforts. And so I have wondered why we at MSD, over 160 years later, cannot learn from Lincoln. Just as Lincoln welcomed the voice of dissension and learned from that, so all of us need each other to move forward. I believe there is power in thinking this way. If we are all homogenized and of one ilk, how can we learn and grow? 

Certainly, it is understandable how dissent can lead to stress, tension, dislike, disagreement, and more. And it would be possible to understand one’s upset and anger that may arise over such disagreements. To some extent, this has fueled the physician’s desire to call it a day, give up, walk away, and leave the profession. Short of that, some may choose to leave an organization, such as MSD, and that is frightening indeed. It is frightening because we can and should work together to make change happen. We need each other to do that, no matter how much we may disagree. We all know this is not a personal issue. It is not that we dislike someone for their ideas and thoughts…at least, it shouldn’t be the case. Not at all. It seems that because we don’t like an idea, a policy, a resolution, we throw up our hands in disgust and leave the table.

How does that serve any of us? Who wants to be at a table where we all agree and share each other’s thoughts…going off into the dark night singing each other’s praises? 

Let’s think about Lincoln and the hard times he faced. Let’s think about how the country moved forward during times of great disagreement. Let’s work together to be the best we can be. 

As we find ourselves in the midst of spring with trees and flowers blooming and winter receding, there is hope. The Interim Council meeting will soon be upon us. It is my hope that members of the Council and non-Council members can come together fully and discuss, disagree, and commit to a meeting where all our opinions are shared and respected. We owe it to ourselves, our patients, and our state. We can and must do better! Let’s be at the table and see the conversation grow spirited and inclusive. We will all be better off.

Matthew J. Burday, DO