Last week two of my favorite patients — young sisters — stopped by my office to say goodbye, then got in their car and hit the westbound road to Nevada, and a new life. They were scared witless, thrilled, excited, and hoping the open road would lead them to the bright futures they deserve. I know just how they feel, because at the end of June, I will be doing the same thing.
This past weekend my wife and I decided I would accept an offer to become the chief physician executive at a health system in Ohio. Scared witless, thrilled and excited, I will hit the road in June, headed to the next step in my dream to help another health care organization build a better health care system for this wonderful, crazy country. That probably sounds corny, but if you know me, and if you have read my columns over the past 18+ years, you know that’s the corny truth. I don’t do BS. Never have, never will.
I had intended to break this news to all of you in an orderly, more personal fashion. I told my boss this weekend, we had a plan to tell my colleagues and my patients late this week, then the public, all in a careful, stepwise plan. Duh — as an old reporter with a big mouth, I should have known better.
I am not moving on because I don’t love it here, or because I don’t love the work that I do. I just want to do more, and it’s all your faults. You — patients, nurses, neighbors, friends and family, colleagues, bosses, readers, and many more — have trained me, taught me, mentored me and made me into who I am. Most of all, however, you inspired me to take this leap. You gave me the privilege of caring by leading, and leading by caring, and I have loved it and want to do more.
In the last couple of years, as I have watched and worked for great leaders in health care, my search for new, personal challenges has grown, and I have had such challenges in spades. Over the past 25 years here I have mopped floors and moved patients, delivered babies and bad news, overseen ERs, ORs, and critical care units, run a hospital and a research company, and helped build a health system.
Each of those challenges, however, has just whetted my appetite, for I have, at the core of my being, a restless energy to make a difference. So when a recruiter called me almost two months ago about this Ohio opportunity, I said, “No,” but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that job and I were meant for each other.
In some ways, I will not be leaving you. Instead, in my own way, I will take you all with me, in all the lessons I have learned from the people of the great state of Maine (my wife and children included). You taught me that I can often touch more lives as a health care administrator in the executive suite and the halls of the state capital than I can in the office or the ER. There are, for example, people walking around alive today in Maine because they started wearing seatbelts after I and many others helped convinced Maine’s Legislature to make the wearing of seatbelts state law.
You taught me to be humble, and also that humble, congenial colleagues working together over the long haul for a good idea can make the impossible happen. You taught me to accept fallibility in others, as many of my patients forgave my fallibility and sometimes imperfect care.
Most of all, you have given me the chance to do good things, and I am moving on to do more. So it’s on to Ohio in June, with a few more columns before I leave. I have to git before I decide instead to run for governor of Maine just to keep busy here. (Campaign headquarters, of course, would be our favorite table at Dysart’s Restaurant in Bangor.)
Erik Steele, a physician in Bangor, is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.