Physician, Healer, Teacher, and Mentor

Dr. Alva Whitehead

Those are all words that come to mind when one thinks about Dr. Alva Whitehead. In my twenty-nine years of serving with him at McLeod, Dr. Alva Whitehead has been a gifted advisor, teacher and mentor.

He joined the McLeod Medical Staff in June of 1976 and served as Chief of Staff from 1998 to 1999. He served as McLeod Vice President of Medical Staff Services from 2001 to 2010. In this physician leadership role, he strengthened the foundation built by Dr. Rick Ervin, our first Vice President of Medical Staff Services as McLeod sought to have additional physician input on the leadership team in 1987. Dr. Alva Whitehead continues to serve as Medical Advisor for McLeod Health.

Providing counsel and support to the McLeod Health Board and leadership teams, Dr. Whitehead has been a strong advocate for patients and families, physicians and hospital staff. As he transitions in his service to others, I thought I would share with you his thoughts about the changes in medicine and health care.

RC: Your father was a physician in Lake City, and your son is a Pediatrician in Florence, what is important about the professional calling to be a physician?

AW: Unfortunately, it seems the whole concept of “calling” has been relegated to the religious sphere. It is unfortunate because “calling” or “vocation” gives a greater meaning to our work. When you consider that to answer a “call” is to really answer four questions: Called from something, Called to something, Called for something, Called by someone. We need to rehabilitate the necessity of answering those questions in our life and work. To realize that you have
been called into whatever work you do and answered that call allows one a greater sense of peace and purpose.

RC: The intensity of the vocational life of physician and medical caregiver is great. How best can we achieve balance in our work and family?

AW: Balance can only be obtained by becoming a “human being”…. So many of us become a “human having”. Some believe happiness is achieved in having more and more. It actually leads to more unhappiness. Others find contentment in “being” – - being present with their family, being present with their patients, and being present with themselves. The greatest mistake I see physicians and their families make is in “frugal fatigue” which leads to great debt, more work, less family time, more unhappiness, more resentment, acquiring more things in an attempt to become happy which leads to a downward spiral of not just “being”. To have or to be, that is the question.

RC: During your tenure as Vice President of Medical Services, McLeod received recognition as a state and national leader in quality and safety. Our medical staff has been engaged in leading that effort. What are your thoughts about Physician Engagement in the modern quality movement ongoing in healthcare?

AW: I firmly believe people want to be a part of some worthy cause greater than themselves. McLeod is providing that opportunity and physicians have embraced that challenge with varying degrees of commitment. One of my favorite quotes is from Bennett Sims:

Visions are never justified by their plausibility. The human spirit goes for great dreams, not because they are plausible, but because they are irresistible.

We are developing irresistible opportunities here.

RC: What are you reading and what do you recommend for the summer?

AW: Over the years, I have had to pace my reading and not become too obsessed with “escape” reading. I am currently reading several books: for work, I am reading “Leadership and Medicine” by Dr. Floyd Loop from the Cleveland Clinic. For fun, I am re-readingĀ “Great Souls: Six Who Changed a Century” by David Aikman. It is a series of six short biographies. Also I am reading two books by Neil Postman, “Amusing ourselves to death” and “Technopoly”. For escape, I will read “Beach Music” and “South of Broad” by Pat Conroy. To pick one from the group that is a must read, it is “Great Souls” – - phenomenal people who helped shape a century!

We look forward to working with Dr. Whitehead as Medical Advisor for McLeod Health. We appreciate your leadership.


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