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Dr. Valencia Walker on Leadership and Organized Medicine

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From Physician Magazine – We’d like to introduce you to LACMA member, Dr. Valencia Walker. We recently talked with her about leadership and organized medicine. We’d also like to say congratulations to Dr. Walker for her recent appointment as Chair of the CMA Council on Legislation.

Dr. Walker is a neonatologist with UCLA hospitals and an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She also serves as President of the Black Women Physicians Association. She shared about her interest in organized medicine, the skill set she’d like to bring to her leadership position and the importance of engaging the next generation of physicians.

The CMA website describes the mission of the Council on Legislation as [formulating] “policy recommendations to the Board of Trustees regarding positions on legislation pending in the State Legislature that impact physicians and the practice of medicine in California.”

There’s the potential for this to be a very busy year for the Council. Dr. Walker pointed out that it’s still early to know what the issues are going to be, but as policy is enacted on a federal level, it will ripple down to California. The full Council will have their first meeting in March, while leadership will meet in February.

Her engagement in organized medicine began soon after she completed her medical training. The chance to chair the Council came as an unexpected opportunity. She decided to “be fearless and jump into it” because it represented a chance to work closely with wonderful people and strong leaders. She knows there will be a learning curve for her, but she’s looking forward to representing the concerns people have.

In considering the skills that translate from clinical practice to advocacy work and the skills that will be developed, Dr. Walker drew from her experience in crisis medicine. She said that there’s a difference in dealing with the emergency and giving day to day care.

Listening was the first thing she mentioned.

“I’m an intensivist so the idea that I can just go in with the right medication, the right amount of fluids, the right procedure and fix the condition, reverse the situation and everything’s better – that’s great for the crisis. But where it comes to listening and understanding what happens when you transfer that patient and the primary care physicians take over and they’re doing the day to day management and chronic care…”

Collaboration plays a big part as well.

[Understanding the nature of day to day care] “is an adjustment for me, but I think one of the places where the skills are very similar is making a differential diagnosis, making sure that you’ve looked at all the potential angles and that you’re doing the right tests. That you’re looking at the right data and interpreting it correctly. And do you have the right consultants? It’s a collaborative process. I tend to deal with really complex patients. I might be in charge of the totality of the patient, but I have to deal with cardiologists, surgeons and putting the whole team together. A lot of those skills are definitely transferable, but I think more than anything understanding the team dynamic and how critical it is, understanding that everyone plays a role and that no one can be undervalued or else you’re going to minimize your ability to be effective and have the impact that you want. We all want those good outcomes, right? We all want to meet those benchmarks. So really want you’re doing in this [advocacy] arena is scaling up and not looking at just the patient, but as we like to say, all the other determinants that may have led to your patient ending up in the ICU.”

On seeing the entire picture.

“So it’s like having one coin and being able to look at both sides of it at the same time. I love the fact that at least right now I’m very engaged as a clinician so I see the day to day and where the challenges are, but I’m also seeing a lot more of the entire picture.

I’ve realized from getting more involved in work in this arena, that physicians have been doing this kind of work for hundreds of years. And Virchow, everything is named after him- Virchow’s Triad, Virchow’s Node – he was also a very outspoken social advocate. He firmly believed that physicians were politicians. The work that needed to be done needs to be done by physicians. We absolutely rely on our critical thinking skills. We absolutely rely on our problem solving skills. And we have an innate desire to do the best that we can for our patients and for our patients’ families. At the same time we have to figure out how to make our practices run, how to get the bills paid. So many physicians are entrepreneurs or small business owners or scientists. They are so many things that encompass critical parts of our society.”

Thank you Dr. Walker for your service to your patients, LACMA and the physician community. We look forward to checking back in with you as the term progresses.

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