The Importance of Listening…

Observations and thoughts about the world we live in…

I’ve been working on a new book which I hope to release sometime in early 2019 – although that timeline may slip a bit given the other pressing demands of life. It seems that the many projects, making sure that Toto – the wonder dog and constant companion – goes for a walk every day when I’m at home as well as watching to make sure that the tides continue to go up and down ten feet at least twice a day at our home in Kittery, Maine :-) among the many other requirements of daily living.  These diversions sometimes pull me away from the petitions of my editor to cut out the wordy segments, reduce the number of metaphors and synthesize my thoughts more effectively so that readers will actually learn something about the lessons of leadership on persistence derived through focus, tenacity, failure, learning, understanding and reflecting – but emanating from the power of listening.  

The following thoughts are an adaptation from one of the chapters, “On Listening”.  As we step away from the travails and torment of our current political dialogue and offer tribute to our veterans, it seemed like a good time to step back and consider the need for listening to one another.  In reading the above bipartisan quotes, I’m particularly drawn to the notion that in honoring our veterans we are honoring the principles upon which our nation has been sustained.  It is through our diversity of cultural background, our diversity of ideas, our diversity of industry and our diversity of perspective that we have been allowed  and encouraged to hold diverse viewpoints across the whole of society.  But, all of this diversity cannot – will not – be sustained if we don’t listen.  So, I offer the following thoughts on

Learning the Art of Listening.

The Persistent Leader must acquire one characteristic above all others and that is the art of listening.  It is perhaps the most difficult but the most treasured of art forms for any leader.  In fact, it is the one area where I continue to diligently focus ongoing effort toward refining my skills in hopes of doing better over time. I must say that the recent debates, discussions and dialogues have challenged me in this regard.  Some of the discussions have been heated.  Others have been abruptly terminated because of the heat.  Some have even had the door closed on them before the discussion began.  And, still others have resulted in both sides simply shaking their heads and wondering – what the hell is he or she thinking?  The most productive; however, have been those where both sides persevered and listened carefully to the other to gain an understanding, to discover a core nugget of truth, to obtain an appreciation of the other’s ideas.  When we support such an approach in our dialogues, debates and discussions and don’t cut off our communications from one another – that’s when we have learned the art of listening. 

Now, please note that I am a student on the art of listening – not an expert.  I view listening as a continuing education skill.  I first learned the art of listening from a college friend’s father.  Her name was Sally and her Dad was Butch.  I met Sally through my best friend in college who eventually became her spouse.  She grew up on a farm not far from our university town so we would frequently “…go out to the farm” as a retreat from the rigors of university learning for a bit of reality learning.  When we arrived – often in a caravan of cars – we were always greeted by Butch (her Dad) and Ellen Ann (her Mom) with open arms.  It’s as if we had become part of the extended family which in many respects we were.  

When we arrived at the farm, we often sat around the kitchen table simply talking about university life and the latest events that seemingly swirled around us.  It was the early 1970’s and there was always a swirling “event” of some sort – much like today’s world except that the swirl came with the evening news with Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley rather than the 24x7 news cycle and the assault of Twitter from every political and social dimension you can think of. The important part of the conversations with Butch was that up until that time, he was the most conservative person I had ever had the opportunity to meet, debate and discuss the issues of the day.  My Dad often debated me and he was quite conservative but Butch made him look centrist.  Butch was an ardent – but extremely thoughtful – advocate for the conservative perspective in society.

Now imagine what a long-haired, university-based, student liberal who always wore a peace symbol around his neck from the early 1970s might be like when he sat down for coffee with Butch. Well, that was me!  The formative years of my life at university contained the rich experiences of the Vietnam War in a far off land, Kent State shootings in Ohio, the Watergate scandals in DC, the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and a host of other experiences that pushed me toward the more liberal perspective.  If you don’t know about these events, follow the hyperlinks.  You’ll get a sense of the discord that exuded America in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was a period where a distraught society boiled over in anger – until we finally sat down and listened, for a while, to one another.  The time for listening has returned…

But, back to my story.  Despite my political leanings, I was quite taken by Butch.  He was not only the most conservative person I had ever interacted with, he was also one of the most learned.  Here we were, out on the prairie in North Dakota sitting around a kitchen table, debating the tenor of the times and Butch was quoting John Locke, Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton and other conservative thought leaders.  He was awesome!  He never raised his voice.  He always looked you in the eye.  He often would smile in an exchange where he disagreed and point out that he disagreed, very politely. 

What I learned from Butch, in addition to the ideology of conservativism, was the beginning skills of listening.  We would sip our coffee, I would pontificate about some burning (often in a very real sense) issue of the day and Butch would listen.  He would then listen some more.  Finally, he would offer his thoughts in a very reasoned fashion and often with a fleck of humor.  Through our dialogue I learned that I needed to be prepared.  I needed to think my position through.  I needed to more fully understand alternative viewpoints to make sure that my viewpoint could stand the test of time.  I learned to listen (NOTE:  I’m still learning – just ask my wife :-)  ).

Butch was not only intelligent but he was able to lay out a perspective on an issue we were debating by cementing his ideas together with perspectives that made sense. His listening was disarming.  His reasoning was clear and often data filled.  The important lesson in the art of listening I learned was that it was important for those of us sitting around the table to be equally clear with similar precision as we articulated our rebuttal positions.  With Butch you didn’t simply flame out.  You did not pontificate – which is something we hear from both sides of the aisle far too much these days.  You didn’t yell or call people names.  In order to respond effectively as an artful listener, we learned that the same degree of clarity on thought, distillation of information and formation of perspective that Butch offered must be constructed for our arguments if we were going to withstand the thoughtful responses of Butch’s positions and perspectives.  By listening, he often gained the upper hand in our discussions and for some, he even carried the day.  I admired Butch.  He embodied what my good friend, Senator David Durenberger (R-MN) once offered to me in a conversation at my home when he said, “We need to listen to the other side to make a difference.” I must say that I have diligently attempted to adopt Dave’s philosophy as my working mantra over the years as part of my foundation for learning the art of listening.

To this day, I count Butch – and, Dave by the way – as a couple of the most influential people in my life – along with Tommy Joe, which is whole other story.  By virtue of demonstration, Butch revealed an important skill that is woefully undeveloped among too many leaders and missing from today’s societal dialogue.  Too many leaders are not listening very well.  Yet, to gain the respect and gratitude of those who sit around our proverbial kitchen tables, listening is one of the most important skills that has been shunted aside among the diatribes we often hear in today’s political debates. Listening is a skill that requires honing every day of your life as a leader.  It is a skill that you must always monitor to assure it is on full alert and omnipresent in your life so that it can be called upon at a moment’s notice. 

So, on this Veteran’s Day 2018, I encourage all of us to ponder the most wonderful gift we have been given by our forefathers  and the veterans who have served our nation – the ability to listen and figure out for ourselves what we believe and where we want our communities and nation to stand.  Unlike so many societies both present and past, we in the United States of America are so very gifted to have the right of freedom of expression.  Let’s not destroy it by not listening to one another.  In fact, sometimes the best lessons in life come from sitting around the kitchen table.  I encourage all of us to take time on Veteran’s Day to not only honor our veterans but to reflect on what they have given us.

Finally, I would like to salute my Uncle Gary and one of my life long friends, Ralph for their service to our country.  Uncle Gary rose to the level of Master Sargent which is the very highest rank for an enlisted person who enters the military.  He served in many locations throughout the world during the course of his career – including in Vietnam, a war I opposed.  And, also to Ralph who enlisted midway through college after receiving a low lottery number in the draft during the Vietnam War.  He did the practical thing and enlisted. Irony of ironies, Uncle Gary and Ralph ended up working directly together in Vietnam.  It is, in fact, a very small world.  And, that is yet another story for another day…

Now, to close out – please note that I frequently disagree with Uncle Gary and Ralph on any number of issues but, I always listen – just like I did with Butch. It is important to listen and to understand because it is only by understanding that we learn to use our knowledge for making a difference.  Again, thank you to all of the vets – of all perspectives, all    persuasions, and from all cultures – who have served on the front lines of democracy so that we can have our debates, engage in our discussions, and hold our dialogues.  But, we need to remember that we will only move forward by also engaging in the opportunity to listen as part of our assembly as families, as communities, as a nation…

Thoughts Beyond Health Care…10/11/18

In an era of considerable name calling and ugliness – there are some very good things happening…  

womenWitnessing The Revolution: Building The Foundation Through #MeToo – The #MeToo movement has been top of mind for most of us over the last month.  In a world where every day brings a flurry of new news as the life of our national soap opera unfolds, the Kavanaugh hearings were perhaps a seminal turning point in our nation’s dialogue.  The hearings brought to the forefront the #MeToo movement.  Witness the sign we saw in the window of a shop as we strolled to dinner the day of the Kavanaugh vote in the US Senate.  It speaks about all women and the role of all people and all families.  I suspect that Tarana Burke – the Founder of #MeToo in 2006 – never anticipated that the community initiative she created for connecting survivors of sexual violence would have such national and international ramifications.  Although I can point to incredible gains that have been made for women over the course  of my lifetime – we have a long way to go…and, I’ll leave it at that!  So, while the issue of sexual violence, let alone sexual disrespect, is an extremely important one for society to address, I believe the movement is extending beyond the too frequently disempowered, one-half of our nation’s and world’s population – women!  In fact, when we look back in a couple of decades, my prediction is that the #MeToo movement will be as much about bringing into the fold the diversity of the whole human populace rather than just half of it – or, at least that is my prediction for the United States.  We are seeing the last hurrah of domination by old white men (I am one of them by happenstance of birth) in America.  Women AND people of other cultures, perspectives, preferences and colors are coming to the forefront of society – AND, THAT IS A VERY, VERY GOOD OUTCOME!!  The #MeToo movement is highlighting the acceptance of diversity across the nation.  It’s about time.  It’s about women but, it’s more than just about women.  In fact, I believe the #MeToo movement is the cornerstone of the diversity movement which is finally coming to America.  We’ve been struggling with it since the Civil War.  I suspect we will continue to struggle with it in the years ahead.  But, hopefully, the new generations will take the lead and move acceptance to a higher plane – a calling, if you will – for what the United States of American stands for…  To all women – thank you for changing our society for the better.  Yes, we’ve come a long way but we have so much further to go!  The Kavanaugh hearings have helped the nation extend a dialogue that is only just now beginning to reshape society.  Don’t be disheartened.  The picture in the window caught the spirit of the changes we are experiencing.  We all need to continue the quest for making the spirit a reality for women and everyone. 

Crossing The Boundaries – To my point above, I recently read a news story about a young women who won the homecoming queen vote at her school and saved the day for her school’s football team – all on the same night.  She’s a student at Ocean Springs MS High School in Florida.  Senior Kaylee Foster had the double honor of being named homecoming queen and serving up the winning points as the kicker for the football team.  The younger generation are crossing all sorts of boundaries.  I look forward to their leadership as they take the reins of society and guide us into the new millennia.  In a similar vein, our youngest was arrested for demonstrating while in Washington, DC.  When Senator Susan Collins gave her speech (apologia) on the US Senate floor last week, there was an outburst in the gallery.  The outburst was a statement of angst about all of the events over the preceding weeks.  But, even though the protest did not stop the speech, the arrest awakened within her the desire to “make a difference” just as the protests of the 60s did the same for my generation.  The flame of change to make a difference is bright and alive. It will change society.  Let’s also hope and pray that some of that energy, that desire, that focus for change will be invested in making health care better! 

A Shameless Advertisement Or, Two…

A Mom and Adopted Dad Made Proud… 

Cookie Is Her Real Name – Our youngest, Cookie Harrist – is a “post-modern dancer”.  She made the big leap by moving to San Francisco this past year which is one of two epicenters for the movement.  The other is Berlin which we are anticipating is next in line for places to visit.  Cookie recently was hosted as one of the centerpiece dancers in “Standing Still” – an experiential dance show at the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco.  Here is one of featured songs and some selected pieces from the show.  Enjoy!

But, There’s More – Michael is a musician.  In addition to his career as a modal musician (music from the Middle East), he’s also part of Amerinouche.  He’s the bassist with a fabulous beat.  Watch him play.  His mind and body become one with the music.  It’s fun to watch – and, hear. 


Random Considerations - 5/1/18

Observations, Books or Articles worth a Thought or Two…

A Buzz To Remember – The brewing controversy over the response of Facebook to a number of issues but primarily related to its position on the use of personal information by the more than 2 billion users is not an incident but a growing cacophony.  It wasn’t helped this past week by a piece in Buzz Feed on the role of Vice President Andrew Bosworth – a provocative Vice President for consumer hardware – when it was revealed that in an internal post back in 2016 he wrote the following:  “The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. It is perhaps the only area where the metrics do tell the true story as far as we are concernedThat isn’t something we are doing for ourselves. Or for our stock price (ha!). It is literally just what we do. We connect people. Period.” You must read the whole article to get a sense of the issue and how the use of data and information by Facebook has not only created wealth but also now consternation among many on their team. 

Change Happens When You’re Not Looking – I feel like I’ve been hiding under a rock or something.  This past week, I attended the American Telemedicine Association conference – one of my favorite annual treks.  This year the meeting was held in Chicago at McCormick Place but the important point is that the other ongoing event at the same venue was America’s Beauty Show!  Yes, America’s Beauty Show.  It was a lesson in “changeor, “what happens when you’re not paying attention”.  I have never seen so much blue (I mean really blue), green, pink, red, yellow, fuchsia and other assorted colors of hair!!  Not only that, but many of the people (mostly women – not a statement, just an observation) were wearing jeans with frayed fronts and/or holes – something we would have patched over in the 1960s with an upside down flag or something.  I felt like what was normal had been turned upside down.  Shouldn’t colored hair be natural and subdued rather than bold, if not outrageous, and iridescent?

Now………..imagine how the medical and health care community feels when we tell them that a lot of their thinking will be replaced by artificial intelligence, that robots are coming which can actually interact with people, that the way to increased productivity is through the use of remote care management monitoring devices and on and on.  Imagine you grew up when the Beatles and Rolling Stones were popular and now there is some weird kind of music you can’t figure out.  That’s called “change” and, it happens.  If you think you’ve seen a lot of change in health care over the last decade think blue (I mean really blue), green, pink, red, yellow, fuchsia and other assorted colors as the metaphor for what’s happening.  It will help you to understand how much change is coming.  And, it won’t take five decades…

What Higher Ed Can Learn from Healthcare

You can click here to listen to the podcast, or read below.

Southern New Hampshire University
Office of the President
1230 Elm St, Manchester, NH 03101
December 2017

What Higher Ed Can Learn from Healthcare? - Transcript of Podcast Interview with Kevin Fickenscher
The following is an edited and adapted transcript of this episode.
Brian Fleming:
Hello, everybody, and thank you for listening to this episode of Thinking Outside the Sandbox. My name is Brian Fleming, executive director for the Sandbox here at SNHU, and today we have the privilege of sitting down with Kevin Fickenscher, president and CEO of CREO Solutions, a consulting firm that focuses on leadership and strategy. Kevin, thank you so much for connecting with us and taking the time to talk.
Kevin Fickenscher:
My pleasure to be with you.
Kevin, before we jump into some more specific questions, can you tell us a bit about your background and what is CREO Solutions? What kind of work do you all do?
I'm a family physician originally, and I practiced for about a decade back in North Dakota where I grew up. That's where I first got interested in the use of technology for delivering health care services. I then moved into more mainstream management. I was the chief medical officer for a couple of the largest health care systems in the country, one of which was Dignity Healthcare on the West Coast. I was there during the period of the dot-com era, and I had dot-com fever like everybody who lived in San Francisco. I started my own little company, which became a part of another company that merged in with WebMD. I ended up being the chief medical officer for WebMD, which is what took me into the technology field.
From there, I worked in consulting, worked for Ross Perot for a long time. I led his consulting practice. I was the lead for international health care and lived in London, took us into the Middle East, China, India, etc. And then returned home about a decade ago when Barack Obama was elected president and have beendoing consulting and a variety of work related to the use of technology in actually delivering care. I refer to it as telecare because it's actually using the technology to deliver care. I've also been involved in leadership development and strategy work for health care systems.
In health care, just like any industry, there has been a "digital revolution," new tools and technologies that have continued to disrupt and change and challenge the industry. Could you talk to us of your observations as you have seen health care continue to go increasingly digital?
I really do fundamentally believe that we're at a very interesting point in the history of mankind. If we think back about all the changes that have occurred in society, we had the Neolithic period that occurred about 15,000 - 20,000 years ago. It lasted for several thousand years. It moved us from being nomadic peoples into being tribal and setting up communities. We then had the industrial revolution, which really moved us from an agrarian society to more of an urban society. And now we have the information revolution, which is upon us, and it's fundamentally changing the whole notion of how, where and who delivers all sorts of services. It's affected literally every industry, manufacturing, logistics, news, media, travel, aviation and it hasn't affected health care in the same way, but it is on the cusp of doing that.
By the way, I should point out the Neolithic period occurred over several millennia. The industrial revolution occurred over a couple of centuries. The information revolution is going to occur over a period of maybe 20 - 30 years. We're in the latter part of that revolution, from my perspective. And so, over the coming decade, I think we're going to see some very dramatic changes in how health care is delivered, who is delivering it, and the tools that are going to be used in supporting it.
Just to focus the conversation for a moment on education, imagine yourself talking to education leaders who have had very little engagement outside of our own industry, what do you think is important for us to understand about trends and innovations in health care particularly around digital?
I'm very involved in the education front, as well. I sit on the board of directors of Fielding Graduate University, which is one of the first universities to engage in a more virtual education. We're very cognizant of that issue. As a matter of fact, one of the things that I believe is happening in the education field, along with health care, is that we're the two industries that have sort of lagged behind other industries in terms of changes. I think that education is going to face the same issues.
One of the examples that I use is that I know for a fact that there is some person going to medical school, probably in Africa, who's not going to medical school. What I mean by that is literally the entire curriculum for any number of medical schools is available online. As a very energetic individual, I could go online, I could look at that curriculum, I could find all of the materials to support the education in either anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, etc, and I could start to go to medical school. The part that I might be missing is the clinical experience, but I would have a lot of the basic sciences available to me online.
The whole notion that you have to go to a place to get your education I think is changing, number one. The whole notion that it's going to be some professor that is trying to get his Nobel Prize is going to be your teacher is changing. I think our whole notion of what it means to be educated is changing. I would also argue that in the world that we're facing that education is not a static experience. It's not something that we get, and we have a degree and that's it. It is very much a continuous process. I know that as a physician, trying to keep up in the literature with the latest ideas, the latest changes, the latest revelations that have occurred is extremely difficult, and I think that applies to education, as well. I think, from my perspective at least, we're undergoing a very dramatic shift in how, where and who is going to be delivering education services as much as health care.
When we think about that shift, I think that puts new pressures on higher education to think about itself perhaps in ways that it hasn't. How have you seen that happen within health care? Can you try to help us understand what some of that shift looks like from the health care side, as well?
Well, let's look at it first of all from the standpoint of the patient, and then let's look at it from the standpoint of the profession. From the patient's side, if we ratchet back 30 years, literally the way a patient was cared for is that they had to physically go to a place generally called a clinic or a hospital or an emergency room. They had to be seen by the people that were there to take care of them, the nurses, the pharmacists, the physicians, etc. And they were evaluated. All sorts of tests were done. Data was gathered, frequently on paper, and that was put together. A lot of times some of the data was missing when it came time for the physician to look at the information, but we did a pretty good job and we managed care and people got better as we took care of them.
Now, ratchet forward 30 years and I can tell you that, for example, if we take the problem of congestive heart failure, which is the most common admission into a hospital in the United States, that literally there are four stages of congestive heart failure. There's stage one, two, three and four. For literally stages one and two, I can manage those problems at home. They don't need to come to the clinic. They don't need to come to the ER or the hospital.
How do I do that? Well, every morning when a patient gets up, they step on a scale, they step off. When they step off, the data goes into a computer system in the cloud. They then take a little device about the size of quarter, maybe three time thicker than a quarter, they squeeze it, they hold it for 10 seconds. As a result of that, we get a one-lead EKG, we get an oxygen saturation level, and we get a pulse. There's now a new device that you put on the chest that's like a Band-Aid and it gathers electrolytes. Electrolytes are like your potassium, your sodium, your carbon dioxide levels, etc. With that information, I can basically manage stage one and two congestive heart failure. I know when people are getting worse as a result of looking at those parameters, and then talking with the individual over the phone. That is a radically different approach than what we did 30 years ago where those people ended up coming into the hospital, being taken care of, etc.
In the same manner, the professions have also been challenged in that the question becomes who can provide that service? If we have tools, I refer to them as clinically augmented intelligence tools, computers, that provide guidance and help us ferret information and go through the protocols and say, "This particular patient really, given their history, is more at risk of going into stage three than another person. Therefore, we need to be more aggressive in our treatment. Let's send out the home health nurse to do a physical visit." But it's a home health nurse going out to the home to do a visit rather than trying to drag the patient into the clinic to see a physician, and then having that home health nurse interact with the physician. So who's delivering the care is changing.
Now, as a result of that, we're seeing changes in the professions and the challenges. Much of the discussion in health care is around the notion of how do we get people to practice at the top of their license, in other words at their maximum capability? It’s very clear that a nurse practitioner using guidelines and protocols can perform about 90% of what a family physician does. It's the 10% is the difference between a nurse practitioner and a family physician. That is a margin that's getting smaller and smaller. Those are some of the challenges that we face. I think on the personal side, there's an increasing expectation of being able to give services in the home, in the environment that they want. Then, on the professional side, we're seeing a change in the pressures, if you will, or the challenges, if you will, of what it means to be a doctor, to be a nurse, to be a nurse practitioner, etc. I would imagine that the same thing applies to education, as well.
I was talking with a young woman that I go to church with and she's enrolled in her PhD program on a virtual basis. She's studying ecology. She did all this search. She decided that she didn't want to move from Maine and she enrolled in her program and she's very happy. She's studying turtles and all sorts of interesting things. That wouldn't have been possible even 10 years ago. The question is who is involved in teaching her about turtles? She's finding professors all over the country that are involved in performing that. She's doing her education on a virtual basis, but she's reaching out to other people who can also help her with her PhD thesis, as an example.
Along those lines, I think there's also now this emerging space of using AR and VR and IOT sensors, etc. What are you seeing happening around some of these more cutting edge, almost futurist types of tools and technologies?
Sure. Let me give an example. I've done some work with MITRE Corporation, which is a company that provides research services to the federal government. One of the projects that they were involved in is a project for the Veterans Administration where over the course of 18 months we captured the data of experts in PTSD, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and individuals who had PTSD. By capturing that audio information only, we were able to teach the computer how to diagnose PTSD as well as the experts with a 95% concurrence rate. What that means is that the computer was as effective, essentially, as the experts, which means that they were far better than a general practitioner out in the field. The computer is better at diagnosing PTSD than just your average person who doesn't have much experience in working in the field.
What was interesting is that the computer actually got better at predicting those individuals that were at risk of committing suicide, which is a very powerful tool. That's the kind of tool that I refer to as a clinically augmented intelligence tool. It is a tool that really says, "Hey, Dr. Fickenscher, based on the audio conversations, have you thought about depression on this patient? Have you thought about early stage Parkinson's disease?" There's any number of problems that could be cued up, if you will, by audio.
Adding that kind of skill or that kind of capability to things like virtual reality I think is very exciting, but I think we're at the very formative stages of things like virtual reality. It's just coming to the forefront now, and how that is going to be used I don't think we have a lot of clarity at this point. There's a lot of experimentation with the tool, but I don't think that it's actually being used in clinical settings at this point.
I know in higher ed we're familiar with a lot of these emerging technologies I think that there's a growing sentiment within higher ed that we are to look to other industries like health care to see how the tools are used.
Can I just jump in on that, Brian.
I think that every university should have a cohort of people whose function it is to be constantly surveilling the environment on the technologies that could potentially affect their approach towards education. That is an essential function. Now, I don't necessarily believe that has to be done by each university on its own. I actually believe it would be better if a couple of like-minded universities got together and said, "We're going to create a collaborative to do this environmental scanning." And the reason I suggest that as a strategic initiative is that innovation in technology is changing so very rapidly that it's really hard to keep up. Assigning four or five people to the project is insufficient to keep track of all of the changes that are occurring in the technology front. I just wanted to put that in. 
That raises a question that I think a lot of educators ask and is on the skills side, what is the world that we're training our students for? If we think about students that are going into health care, medicine and allied health, etc, but I think just more broadly as we think about a world where these technologies such as AR and VR and augmented intelligence are more prevalent, what should we be doing and where are there potentially gaps in our current education and training model?
Well, I think that at the outset, from a foundational standpoint, we need to be teaching people to be continuous learners. I have to say, at least in my personal experience, I don't think that was necessarily the focus of my education historically. Now, maybe things have changed in universities, but I don't think so. A lot of the focus is around the endpoint of getting a degree, completing a thesis. These are endpoints and they're sort of like, "Oh, I did it." Well, no, you're just starting, would be my argument. So continuous learning and learning how to learn continuously and learning how to sift through the plethora of information that is becoming available and trying to figure out. For example, given all the stuff that we've experienced over the last couple years with the internet and the reliability of information that's out there, how does one sift through that information? How does one make a determination on whether on some piece of information is accurate or not? Those are the critical kinds of skills that are going to be important.
I would also argue, at least in the health care space, that we need to be thinking about how do we train and support people to become what I call health care virtualists? What I mean by that is somebody that doesn't necessarily physically touch the patient, but is looking at data about the patient, is probably talking to the patient, is looking at physiologic parameters of the patient and having a totally different interaction with an individual on a virtual basis. I would argue that it takes a different set of skills, a different set of sensitivities, a different sieve, if you will, of looking at the data to be a good virtualist than it does to be somebody sitting in a room with a patient.
One of the natural questions that often comes up is does this signal a loss of jobs? Does this signal a gain in jobs? I think a lot of the research that I've seen suggests that in this new era of digital and virtual, there will in fact be more jobs. It's just that the skills and the competencies needed to do those jobs change.
Are the robots eating everybody's jobs or are they just changing our jobs?
Oh, I just think they're changing our jobs. As a matter of fact, I was on a panel here a couple weeks ago and I made a fairly provocative statement. I said that family physicians, if they don't embrace the changes that are occurring around things like virtualist care, the family physicians will become the coal miners of health care in the next decade. What I meant by that is that I think it's disingenuous to suggest that coal mining is going to come back, from my perspective. Rather, what we need to be doing is taking those individuals and giving them new skills, new knowledge, new capabilities, new talents, new professions. That's part of what I think is going to be occurring. I think we're going to see a dramatic increase to the number of jobs because mining data is actually more difficult, in some respects, than mining physical coal, as an example.
Along those lines, is what is your recommendation for education circles? What do we do about this? What is our mandate moving forward?
I think that there is a need for universities to move beyond the physical parameters of their institutions and start to think about how they could collaborate with other like-minded institutions, because the sum is greater than the parts would be my argument. That's one. I also think we need to be rethinking how we even educate our educators, along the lines of what I was talking about with the virtualist health care providers. What about the virtualist educators? I think it takes a certain new set of skills, a new set of capabilities to be able to be an effective teacher of students on a virtual basis. And yet, I don't think there's that much focus on that aspect in higher education, at least I haven't seen it.
I do believe, also, for example there are a lot of very interesting higher education institutions particularly at the undergraduate level that have provided very innovative undergraduate educational experiences for their students. I'm thinking of some of the small colleges. And they're really struggling. I think they need to think about how they can come together and figure out how they can reduce their cost by sharing some of the back-end capabilities so that the front end is sustained and is stronger.
As a final question, and we ask this often with folks on this podcast, as you look out to the future are you hopeful? Are you optimistic? Are you concerned? What are your thoughts?
When I was admitted to medical school, one of the requirements at the University of North Dakota Medical School is that everybody was required to take the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory. I remember at the admissions committee when we were being asked our questions, the psychologist who was the person who evaluated everybody said, "Kevin, it's very clear that you look at the world with rose-tinted glasses." And I continue to do that. I mean, I'm a very optimistic person. I really have embraced technology because I think that it is at the core of what medicine really is all about. When you stop and think about medicine, literally for the last 300, 400, 500 years, medicine has been at the forefront of adopting new technologies, whether it's the stethoscope or ultrasound or radiology or antiseptic capabilities, etc. I mean, all of those were "new technologies" at the time. I think we're facing the same thing now, so I'm actually very optimistic.
Thank you so much for speaking with us, Kevin. Really appreciate you taking the time.
My pleasure, Brian.

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