Biography: Kelly is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
September 01, 2016
3 min read

BLOG: Lessons in leadership based on the example of John A. Feagin Jr., MD

Biography: Kelly is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Effective leadership is essential for any undertaking to succeed. Many agree that most, if not all, of the challenges that subvert the responsible practice or orthopedic surgery today are the result of failed leadership.

Col. John A. Feagin Jr., MD, has been the consummate leader in his orthopedic vocation. Recognizing the increasing need for leadership in medicine, the Feagin Leadership Program was conceived in 2009.

Definition of leadership

Leadership is much more than the stock definition of “the power or ability to lead other people.” It is the ability to translate a vision into reality. It is about problem-solving, consensus-building, enhancing the innate talents of others and providing inspiration.

For Feagin, leadership had to be first and foremost founded on integrity. Feagin summarized leadership as simply “doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason.”

Feagin recognized ethical leadership is the only leadership. Only leaders with the highest level of integrity will be followed. Effective leaders “walk the talk” and serve as exemplars, not just cheerleaders. Real leaders recognize the common good must supersede self-interest, and that honesty, humility and integrity are absolute imperatives.

Feagin’s life

Feagin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and became the first active-duty officer to be accepted into medical school (Duke University Medical School). He served his country with distinction in Vietnam and become the chief of orthopedic services at the 85th Evacuation Hospital. Following his service in Vietnam, Feagin rendered care to athletes at West Point before heading to Letterman Medical Center in San Francisco where his principal charge was establishing a joint replacement fellowship. He returned to West Point as hospital commander before retiring from military service. He then relocated to Jackson Hole, Wy. for a 10-year taste of a busy private practice. He ultimately returned to Duke where he remained until he retired in 1999 as a professor of surgery.

All the while, Feagin was the consummate surgeon, educator and leader. His research and writings on knee ligamentous and meniscus injury are timeless. He has mentored countless students, residents and fellows and he became a founder and president of the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine. He has served as team physician for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team and an ardent international medical mission work leader, surgeon and advocate.

Importantly, those who know Feagin acknowledge his character more so than his accomplishments. A paragon of virtue, Feagin has led his life with the highest order of integrity. Selfless, compassionate, encouraging, humorous, brilliant while humble, Feagin has inspired a generation of leaders by his example.

Feagin Leadership Program

Due to the extraordinary efforts of Col. Dean Taylor, MD, the Feagin Leadership Program was instituted in 2009 with its mission “to provide a transformational learning experience that develops effective ethical leaders who will positively influence health care.”

 The Feagin program is a consortium of leaders from medicine, business and athletics and holds annual leadership forums. It also provides funds for Feagin scholars who are schooled in the core values of teamwork, integrity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and selfless service — all directed toward a patient-centered perspective.

The Feagin model is based on time-tested and enduring principles. The patient centeredness perspective reflects the chief impetus of why physicians endure the labors of medical training to help patients. The data is clear: Patient-centered care produces superior outcomes and is cost-effective.

The medical team approach creates synergy and without integrity, there is no trust. Critical thinking is a skill that can be honed and is predicated on clarity, rationality and open-mindedness and is informed by evidence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify our emotions and those of others. It is essential in team- and consensus-building. Finally, selfless service is free of ego and personal gain. Great energy can be summoned when a higher purpose, such as the welfare of an entire company, hospital, residency or battle platoon, underlies motivation.

Consider a world where politicians, chief executive officers, department chairs and hospital administrators all adopted the Feagin core values. The common good would prevail, and there would be no ego-driven power struggles. Organizational members would be united in a common, noble purpose and leaders would execute clearly thought directives while respecting the emotions and dignity of all.

Feagin, we salute you for your service to country. Truly, you are a “soldier’s soldier.” An even more profound thanks for the leadership example you have given us. Your core values are needed now, more than ever.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams