It’s already been a few years since I exited the Society of Hospital Medicine’s Board of Directors (2 years, or maybe 3 – I’ve already lost count), and sitting in my proverbial rocking chair in the Old Hospitalists’ Home, I heard, as many of you did, that Larry Wellikson, MD, MHM, the first and only CEO in the Society’s history, is stepping down soon.
With all the idle time that I find myself with these days, I have had the opportunity to ruminate on what Larry has brought to SHM in his 2 decades of leadership. And among the many answers, two stand out for me.
The first is Larry’s deep appreciation of the value of relationships that he has developed and nurtured, an attribute which he has imprinted on many of us who have worked with him over the years. Although Larry speaks of the camaraderie of the first years of SHM and the bonds that he, Bob Wachter, Win Whitcomb, and John Nelson established, he also has kept in touch with a vast network of hospitalists over the last 20-plus years.
Go to lunch with Larry, and be amazed at how much he knows about the goings-on of many of our colleagues. The fondness that Larry has for the people in his life is without parallel. These aren’t just professional colleagues who have impacted him in some way – for Larry, every one of these is a true lifetime friendship, and he continues to establish new ones every year. He makes each of his friends feel truly special to him.
The second is the critical value of and need for change and disruption. The specialty of hospital medicine was, from its beginning, disruptive, and from his career as a physician executive, Larry understood and has brought to SHM an understanding of the necessity of disruption to encourage growth and fresh thinking. If one steps back and looks at, for example, the composition of the Board over the years, or the Journal of Hospital Medicine’s editorial staff, or of our committees, one sees a pattern – a commitment to continuously bringing on young leaders who are still on the early and ascending part of their career paths.
Other organizations identify Board candidates at the peak of their careers, but at SHM, many of us were elected when we had just enough experience to contribute but then continued to grow in our careers after finishing our terms. I joined the Board in 2012 (I think) and while I would probably be a more seasoned and stately Board member if I joined at this point in my life, I would also have less new and novel to offer – and therefore be less effective for what the Society needs. While SHM respects its past leaders, it does not revere them. Our past is important, but our present and future are more important. Larry brought that mentality to SHM.
Ironically, the one position within SHM which has not, until this year, been subject to that same kind of transition is the CEO position itself. And this year, that domino will fall as well. While transitions are hard, change is good – and I am confident that our Society’s commitment to seeking out new, talented leaders, and making transitions at all levels – Board, committees, chapters, speakers – with the intent of bringing new perspectives and creativity, is firmly entrenched in our culture. And Larry can join me in the rocking chair as we relive our common SHM experiences together – and create new memories as well.
Congratulations Larry, and thank you.
Dr. Harte is a past president of SHM, and president of Cleveland Clinic Akron (Ohio) General and the Southern Region. He formerly served as president of Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital and Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital.