When Donald Trump announced that he was running for president last summer, most people didn’t know quite what to think. Was this serious or some sort of publicity stunt? Would he be in the race for more than just a few weeks of intense media spotlight? Would he be able to stand on a stage and debate other politicians? No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, hardly anybody would have predicted Donald Trump would be where he is today.
Shortly after Mr. Trump began his improbable run, I wrote a couple of articles about him, and related them back to health care. The first article focused on his strong personality and aggressive negotiation skills. The second article discussed the unique appeal of his candidacy.
We are now at a stage where his presidential run has gotten much further along, and he’s the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination. As I mentioned in my first article, I was a fan of Donald Trump as an entertainer (I watch the Apprentice) and I’ve also read some of his books — which despite going over the top at times, do actually contain plenty of good advice on winning and chasing success.
I received quite a bit of correspondence and feedback after my blog pieces, getting into Trump’s politics — even though I had specified clearly that my writing wasn’t coming from that perspective or some sort of political endorsement. I’m going to say again that what I’m about to write next is just going to focus on his cult of personality and why it can be attractive to some people, relating it in some ways to my experience in hospitals.
After all, every hospital in America probably has personalities on the Trump spectrum, don’t they? If you take a step back, it’s easy to see their appeal on a personal level. This would be a physician (or perhaps more likely a surgeon!) who is generally seen as one of the hospital “big hitters.” They are typically in their 50s or 60s, have their own very successful private practice, and are considered loud and brash in the hospital (not necessarily rude, but definitely a bit of a loud mouth). They can’t be controlled and regularly stick their fingers up at administration (the “establishment,” who are infuriated that they can’t control this physician).
At the same time, they are usually wildly popular with their patients and often friendly and charming in all of their interactions with staff (the patients appreciate their doctor’s accessibility, responsiveness and apparent decisiveness). They will take their residents and students out for nice group dinners after their rotations, do most of the talking, giving them entertaining monologues about their experiences, perspectives, and pearls of wisdom. They will be openly critical of people they don’t like in the hospital or believe are full of nonsense (usually administrators), but at the same time be quite sensitive to any criticism and be prone to losing their temper when things don’t go right. Some may even use the word mercurial. Generally, however, they are good at commanding the respect of those immediately around them.
All health care professionals know a physician like this, right?! Despite being a dying breed in the age of consolidation and mass employment of physicians, they’re still around in lots of places. And their appeal is quite obvious because they appear beholden to none, say what they think, and are successful in their careers. Here lies the personal magnetism of a maverick. In fact, these characters still exist much more in healthcare than they do in any other corporate environment, where rebelling against authority is almost unheard of (primarily because private physicians can still boast some autonomy and get their clout from being good at what they do with the support of their happy patients).
To state once again, this is not to get into Donald Trump’s politics or views, but merely to highlight how the cult of a strong and independent personality is very compelling on a human level. The question, however, that we must ask, is that while a person like this may be very effective in their own niche — would they be good in a larger position where the goal is to bring people together and solve complex problems? For our loud and audacious physician for instance, would they be ideally suited to managing the whole hospital if they ever needed to? That’s the question to ponder.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of three books, includingThomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha. He is the founder and director, HealthITImprove, and blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.