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Able, Affable and Available: Are You a “AAA” Rated Physician?

able, available and affableOnce upon a time I was a visiting fourth year medical student doing a surgical sub-internship at NYU Medical Center.  On day 1 I met my future husband, then a second year surgery resident on his way to urology at Columbia.  But that day was not the highlight of my first week in New York.  It happened on day 3, when grand rounds were given, led by the Chair of Surgery, Dr. Frank Spencer, heart surgeon and personality extraordinaire.

Dr. Spencer commanded the room filled mostly of men, except me.  Women were just not found in surgical suites in those days.  But he didn’t notice me and I didn’t notice the lack of others like me.  I listened to this legendary educator as he taught me one of the most important lessons I have learned from anyone, anywhere in my medical education.

“What is an AAA rated surgeon?” his voiced boomed without a mike in the auditorium filled with more than 60 physicians.

The chief residents smiled knowingly. They had heard this before.  We lesser creatures sat quietly in our seats, hoping this question was rhetorical.  After the silence filled the room, Dr. Spencer quietly responded to himself, “He is able, affable and available.”

Not paying attention to the exclusionary pronoun, I listened carefully to the core message.  Just three simple, easy to remember words held the key to success.  What a revelation!  One that has influenced me for more than 35 years.  In its simplicity, this concept conveys all that one need to know about how to be a top-notch “AAA” rated physician.

Able.  Being able to do the job.  Knowing your stuff.  Gaining skills and applying them well.  Able to give care, to show care, to just care.

Affable.  Keeping a good spirit, one of optimism and openness.  Keeping your cool.  A “good old boy” who can get along with others.

Available.  Showing up.  Being there.  Present and accounted for. In the moment.

What else is there?  Not much.  We keep expanding our definition of professionalism.  Our society keeps expanding the expectations of physicians.  But when you really think about it, it all just comes down to these three simple concepts.

So where is the hook for women.  Women can have a corner on the market here.  We are able–many of us have careers and run a home and family.  How much more able can we get?

And we are usually smiling to keep up that good face for the kids and everyone else.  Affability comes naturally to most.

And we can all be available.  We are capable of being present and in the moment and close out everything else and pay attention to the patient at hand.

Not all women physicians are ‘AAA’ rated, yet.  But the potential to become one is definitely there. All of us now know what Dr. Spence told to his “boys” who turned into surgical men.  The secret is no longer.  We can teach our “girls,” who will grow up into surgical women and other doctor-types.  And now we can all live happily, ably, affably and availably ever-after.  The End.


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