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Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation President George Thibault, MD

Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation President Has Long Championed Health Equity and Medical Education Reform

The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF) is thrilled to announce that George Thibault, MD will be the keynote speaker at the 5th Annual Schweitzer Fellows for Life Conference: Achieving Health Equity Together.

Thibault is President of the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation—the Key Sponsor of the Fellows for Life Conference, and the only national foundation solely dedicated to improving the education of health professionals.

In his keynote address on Saturday, October 29, Thibault will speak to conference attendees about shaping a more affordable, accessible, and reliable health care system through interprofessional educational interventions. He’ll also speak about the specific ways in which ASF’s multidisciplinary pipeline of Schweitzer Fellows and Fellows for Life (alumni) can collaborate to work towards health equity for all.

ASF: What initially drew you to medicine as a career? What motivated you to push for research and reform into the content and structure of traditional health professional education?

GT: I grew up in a little town in upstate New York. My father was a general practitioner—and, for a good part of my childhood, the only doctor in town. I used to make house calls with him, and for part of that time, the office was actually in our house.

My father, sadly, died when I finished my freshman year of college. I was originally a philosophy major in college, but the imprint of my earlier experiences—coupled with the loss of my father—convinced me to go to medical school.

I went to Harvard Medical School (HMS) and to the Mass General Hospital (MGH) for training in internal medicine and cardiology, and went on to serve at HMS and its affiliated hospitals in a variety of roles. [Thibault ran MGH’s internal medicine residency program and started its Medical Practice Evaluation Unit; served as Chief of Medicine at the VA hospital affiliated with Harvard; served as Chief Medical Officer at Brigham and Women’s; and then served as Chief Medical Officer for Partners HealthCare]. All along, I was very much involved in medical school issues – including curriculum reform. I was the founding director of The Academy at Harvard Medical School, which works to improve teaching and the status of teachers.

I never had any plan at all to go run a foundation—I didn’t plan on leaving the two worlds of health care delivery and medical education. So when I was approached to lead the Macy Foundation, I originally said, ‘The chance of my leaving is so small – I don’t want to waste your time!’ But they persisted, and one thing led to another. I got excited about taking the things I had been doing at health care institutions in Boston, and thinking about them in a national context. And here we are, three-and-a-half years later.

ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

GT: It’s a triple mission: to provide accessible, reliable, and affordable care. If we solve one of those missions without solving the other, we won’t fulfill the promise of better health for our country. Just making care affordable doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will be accessible or that it will be reliable.

At Macy, we are focusing on educational interventions that will help us achieve these goals. We’re not giving grants to redesign the health care system—we’re exploring educational interventions that will make it more likely that the health care system will function in the way we want it to function.

That’s one of the reasons why we’ve come to interprofessional education as such an important tool. It isn’t going to solve all of the problems we face, but we strongly believe that interprofessional education will lead to better teamwork and collaboration, which will lead to more reliable and cost-effective care—and probably to more accessible care, too.

ASF: Can you tell us about some of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation’s recent grants to improve education for the care of underserved populations—from implementing LGBT competency trainings, to training pediatricians to care for the unique needs of underserved children and their families?

That LGBT competency training grant was to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—which is the overarching governance body for all medical schools across the country. We thought the fact that the AAMC has chosen to highlight this issue as part of its own diversity program was important.

The response to the other grant you mention, which was to the American Academy of Pediatrics, has been very gratifying. They had piloted a program out of the University of Rochester in which residents are both exposed to, and learn the skills necessary to deal with, the unique issues facing children in underserved areas. We gave them a grant to replicate the program at many more sites. Somewhere between a third and half of all of the pediatric residency training sites in the country applied to do it, which showed the level of interest in training residents in new ways and new settings.

We also have a major grant to Tulane to train students for rural career practice, and a major training grant at Johns Hopkins focused on urban and inner-city health issues. The Macy Foundation is committed to preparing health professionals to serve in underserved areas.

ASF: Each year, ASF trains more than 250 multidisciplinary graduate students to meet the health needs of underserved communities. What is your most important piece of advice for these emerging professionals as they embark on their careers with big-picture change and achieving health equity in mind?

I would urge them to try to identify solvable problems. What is a particular, specific issue or problem where you can focus your energy? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by the magnitude of some of the problems we face—so I would say, try to find a finite but measurable goal that—when added up with lots of other people’s finite, measurable goals—will make a real difference.

The 2011 Schweitzer Fellows for Life Conference: Achieving Health Equity Together will take place at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA on Oct. 28 and 29. To register, click here.