SPS Member Profile: Andrew W. Gurman, MD

Past President, American Medical Association 2016-2017

Pennsylvania Medical Association (WADA Delegate Member 1996-2007)

Lecturer, Pennsylvania Medical Society 2002-2007

Location: Altoona, Pennsylvania

Specialty: Hand surgery (orthopedic surgery)

Q: How has the infectious disease outbreak affected you, both physically and emotionally, and what would you suggest to help other senior physicians cope?

A: I hadn’t closed my practice during my presidency, but I kept it much slower. I felt it was important to have the gravity of still being a practicing doctor when talking to other doctors, legislators, or the public. I had an interesting revelation during the last six months of my year as Past President. I realized that I had never enjoyed my practice so much. The slower pace allowed me to spend more time with my patients, and the presidential stipend relieved me of any financial pressure for the practice to produce. It was extremely rewarding to be able to explain to patients what was going on with them and explore treatment options.

In many cases, I would see someone who had been treated elsewhere, and they would tell me that in one visit, I had explained more to them than the practice that had treated them for a year. I use the word “practice” on purpose, because in many cases the physician was absent from most encounters. I enjoyed it so much, that I decided to reclassify my practice as my favorite hobby, and continue working at the same pace. This is an opportunity that is not available to most physicians.

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to work, but I’m really good at it, I love doing it, so I’ll continue to practice my favorite hobby as long as I’m physically and mentally able to do it then. Don’t forget that hand surgeons sit down when we examine people, and we sit down when we operate, so I may be able to do that for a long time. I hope so. I was hoping to travel more, but the pandemic prevented me from doing so. I hope to be able to take a river cruise just before the annual meeting.

Q: What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned and how has it impacted your career in organized medicine?

A: I think there are two important lessons I learned, and I think the common theme is service.

The first is a quote: “We must become the leaders we expect.” There is some discrepancy as to where it came from, but that tells me that if you think something needs to be done, you should try to do it or have it done.

The second is the importance of small gestures: a handwritten note, a phone call, picking up a piece of paper from the floor of a hotel lobby to prevent someone else from slipping and falling on it. I’ve always valued connection, and these little things help me feel good about my interaction with others. When I was president of the AMA, when a complaint came in, I sometimes called the doctor and spoke with him. It was sometimes difficult to make them believe that the WADA President was calling them, but they appreciated the awareness.

Q: What do you miss most about your role as Speaker of the WADA House of Delegates?

A: When I became Vice President of AMA House, I did my best to make people understand that I was there to make their business easier and that there was no personal agenda. I was just in love with the process and wanted to share that joy with them. I think to some extent I succeeded. Certainly having Dr. Jerry Lazarus and Dr. Susan Bailey as partners in crime helped a lot, because they felt the same way. I miss this interaction. I also miss the enormous preparation required to run a meeting. We would go through all the resolutions, amendments if we had any, and explain how we would handle different scenarios if they arose. For the House, it probably seemed effortless, at least I hope so, but there was a lot of groundwork that went into it. It was extremely rewarding when it went well. Finally, I guess I miss the fellowship of having a relationship with everyone in the House. It was very fun!

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