You might have noticed that there is a new headshot accompanying my column this month. Times change – I’ve swapped the Navy cap for a suit and some gray hairs – while some things stay the same. I’m still working the night shift and my wife still rolls her eyes at me at least twice a day.
The original photo – which ran in something like 200 editions of this magazine – was taken by my dear friend, Elsburgh Clarke, at the Navy-Notre Dame football game in 1998. That same year, Ramzi Yousef was sentenced to life in prison for the first World Trade Center bombing. Osama bin Laden published a fatwa declaring jihad on all Jews and Crusaders. Clinton uttered those famous words, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” And the Standard Growth Rate – the SGR – was one year old.
A lot has happened since that original photo was taken. Today, Navy has a better football team, but only beats Notre Dame on rare occasions. We have a new World Trade Center and no Osama bin Laden. The Clintons are back in the news and so is the Standard Growth Rate. We’ve been through five years of Obamacare without its full implementation and the public is no more excited about it than when it was passed. A Republican majority in the House and Senate has vowed to reform or repeal the Act, but they’re still in a stalemate with the President. So what does the future hold? Are we just stuck in a cycle, doomed to repeat the past? Maybe not.
For years you have heard me urge you all to get involved in the “process.” I’ve goaded you to stop complaining, roll up your sleeves and get to work producing solutions. A few years back I even flew down to Tennessee to visit my friend Lynn Massingale at TeamHealth to specifically urge him to take a lead in the politics of health care reform. He turned the tables on me, challenging me to take my own advice. His counsel took a long time to sink in, but eventually I realized that I needed to practice what I was preaching.
Last month, after long talks with my wife and family, I officially decided to run for the House of Representatives, putting my name in the hat for the 3rd District of Maryland. Those of you who know me well know that this decision is not a lark. It is the result of a career-long discussion. I have never been elected to public office, but I’m in good company with a host of dedicated citizen-legislators. In fact, the newly elected Governor of Maryland, while having years of experience as a business owner, had never held a public office. It is my belief that career politicians often lack the first-hand experience of working with, listening to, and caring for those they would hope to represent.
As you all know, those are things that are part of the fiber of our experience as emergency physicians. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I’ve seen how bureaucratic overhead and excessive taxation can stifle innovation and smother the development of a nascent business ventures. And as a veteran, I’ve experienced firsthand the implementation and impact of our foreign policy, particularly as it applies to military force and the impact on our men and women in uniform.
I know that some of my readers will conclude that this campaign has nothing to do with them and less to do with emergency medicine. But I would respectfully disagree. Holding up the safety net of our society has taught us all pragmatic compassion, cost effectiveness, and cooperation within a competitive framework. These are the attributes, in my mind, of the best leaders. We don’t live and practice in a bubble. We refer to our work site as “the trenches” for good reason. I believe that all of us have a lot to offer our nation as leaders and elected officials. If my efforts inspire others to step up to the plate, then the campaign will be a benefit far beyond the borders of my district.
But what does a political campaign have to do with emergency medicine? First, as I’ve noted many times, emergency medicine is the first specialty that was born out of a new way to deliver care, not an anatomic area of the body, or a particular type of procedure. Emergency medicine was born out of a desire to provide the best possible medical care to the most people in the timeliest manner. And with the challenges facing healthcare today, it is this same mentality that we must apply to the whole of medicine to sustain quality care in the future. Just as medical advances on the battlefield make their way into civilian practice, so can the lessons learned in the trenches of emergency practice inform the larger society.
Efficiency is the realm of the emergency physician. When is the last time you saw that principle on display in government? Personal responsibility and empowerment are the pillars of good health. When is the last time you saw this sought in government? Honesty and forthright communication is absolutely necessary to the success of emergency medicine. When is the last time you saw that principle sought in government? Leadership through service is a core value of all emergency physicians. When is the last time you saw that principle sought in government?
No, my friends, an emergency physician stepping up to take on a role in public service is not really much of a stretch at all. It is a rather natural evolution, and a path that has been taken by others before me. I hope and pray that those who have disagreed with me about the positions I’ve taken on these pages will continue to engage in respectful debate, both here, and in private. The free markets of ideas are the bedrock of our society. I hope you know that having access to someone in government who is willing to really listen to all points of view is a benefit to everyone.
To those of you who share my concepts of limited government, open access to opportunities of every kind, and a deep love of this country, I hope you will find ways to support and involve yourself in this campaign. Even though I may be running in the 3rd district of Maryland, I will reflect the perspectives of emergency physicians everywhere. One thing I have learned already is that a campaign of this size requires a lot of financial support. There is a reason why the congress is currently populated with a lot of lawyers. The legal profession is one of the largest groups of political donors in the country. But the issues facing our country are bigger than law, and have an awful lot to do with the daily ebb and flow of life in the emergency department. It is right that we put our financial clout to work for the good of the country. I hope that you will get involved, if not with this campaign, with others in your region. 2016 will not be a year to sit on the sidelines and complain. There is new trench, a new battle. Will you join me?
Do you believe in innovative, sustainable healthcare solutions? JOIN US!
Dr. Plaster, the founder and executive editor of EPM, is running for the House of Representatives in Maryland’s 3rd district. Even if you can’t vote in the 3rd district, we’d appreciate your support. To get involved, sign up at: www.PLASTERFORCONGRESS.com