During a perfect evening under the stars at San Diego’s waterfront, the CSA celebrated the start of ANESTHESIOLOGY 2015 on Saturday, October 24, with a reception in honor of Michael Champeau, MD. A former CSA president, Dr. Champeau is our candidate in a three-way contested race for ASA Assistant Treasurer.
Stanford University’s Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine cosponsored the reception. A lively crowd of 200 enjoyed mariachi music, Mexican food, and the chance to meet and reconnect with ASA delegates and alternate delegates from across the country.
The ASA annual meeting began earlier in the day as ASA President J.P. Abenstein, MD, welcomed anesthesiologists from 82 countries around the world. He introduced the keynote speaker, retired U.S. Navy Commander Michael Abrashoff, the best-selling author of “It’s Your Ship.”
Dr. Abenstein explained that Cmdr. Abrashoff understands a problem many of us face in the practice of anesthesiology—being accountable for results in a setting where you don’t make the rules.
In 1997, Cmdr. Abrashoff took command of the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer that had the distinction of being the worst ship in the Navy, with a retention rate of only 8%. In less than two years, the retention rate rose to nearly 100%, and the crew won the Spokane Trophy for best-performing ship in the Pacific Fleet.
How did he accomplish this remarkable feat?
Excellence without arrogance
Cmdr. Abrashoff credited former Secretary of Defense William Perry with teaching him valuable lessons about leadership while he served as Perry’s military assistant. “Perry led with a sense of humility,” he explained. “He was soft-spoken. Introverted. If you had an idea how to improve a process, he wanted to hear from you.” Perry embodied “excellence without arrogance,” he said.
He advised anyone in a leadership role always to assume that the crew wants to do a great job. In the event of a poor outcome, he said, ask yourself how you, as the leader, could have contributed to a better outcome.
Cmdr. Abrashoff realized that he couldn’t run his ship sitting behind his desk all day long. He met with each sailor, asking what he or she needed in order to stay in the Navy. The answers varied—better education opportunities, for example, or the opportunity to transfer to a ship closer to family. He realized that many sailors didn’t reenlist simply because no one had ever made them feel valued, and no one had ever asked them to stay.
“No one is keeping us from being the best except ourselves,” Cmdr. Abrashoff said. “It’s up to us to chart the course and communicate it to our people. There was a day when technical competency could get us through, but that isn’t enough any more.”
In the face of a huge bureaucracy and inflexible rules, “it’s easy to feel hopeless,” Cmdr. Abrashoff said. “But there are things we can do, things that we can have a direct influence on, and it’s all about how we show up as leaders. We can either lead, or we can become victims.”
The four most powerful words in the English language, the former naval officer said, are “What do you think?” He advised the audience to get people on their teams to own their work instead of being simply “order-takers”. We can’t get rid of rules and regulations, he concluded, but by bringing out the best in those we lead, we can achieve results that gain the confidence of those higher up in the chain of command.
In addition to the multitude of educational offerings and exhibits to visit, CSA officers and members took part in a full schedule of governance activities. A full slate of state and regional caucus meetings took up most of Saturday afternoon, with review of the candidates seeking office and the issues to be debated by the House of Delegates.
On Sunday morning, the first meeting of the full House of Delegates took place, with the nomination of candidates for office in 2015-16. California currently boasts three ASA officers running unopposed for their positions. Daniel Cole, MD, ascends from President-elect to President this year, while Stanley Stead, MD, MBA, continues as Vice President for Professional Affairs, and Linda Mason, MD, continues as ASA Secretary.
In Dr. Cole’s remarks to the House, he warned the audience of the coming transition from fee-for-service to value-based payment, calling it a “Hunger Games” scenario. But the ASA will confront the future with “action, adaptation, and innovation,” he promised.
Dr. Champeau spoke last of the three candidates for Assistant Treasurer, following Steven Hattamer, MD, of New Hampshire, and James West, MD, of Tennessee.
“All of us in this room today deliver same, smart, compassionate anesthesia care,” Dr. Champeau said. “The problem is that all our scientific advances have made our work look routine—even easy. Instead of gratitude, what do we get in return? Government mandates. Less pay. Constant interference in the doctor-patient relationship.”
Anesthesiologists need the ASA, Dr. Champeau said, to help them navigate the implementation of the new MACRA law. Large corporations are taking over many groups, he noted, but “employers don’t have our backs the way the ASA does.”
The election for Assistant Treasurer and the other uncontested ASA offices will take place on Wednesday. Stay tuned for further updates as the ASA annual meeting continues!