Chicago, pt 2: A Realization About Teamwork and a Push For Dialogue

September 16, 2006 at 8:25 pm (Michael's Posts)

After an early staff meeting yesterday morning, I was talking to Dr Ari Katz (the infectious disease fellow who is running the program) about some of the inefficiencies in the hospital. He mentioned that there are a number of programs doing similar things and overlapping services because they are not aware of other doctors’ work. I was really surprised. It seemed so simple to me: being aware of the projects of your colleagues should be an integral part of working at an institution together.

This made me think immediately about this blog and trying to raise awareness about what other people are doing in our area of interest around us. Not only for the purpose of having something interesting to read, but also because it makes us aware of people who are doing similar work so we can work together. Two heads, they say, are better than one.

There are barriers to this simple philosophy, though. Sadly, there is a lot of competition for grant money. But there is also a lot of arrogance about methods. This brings into play my earlier post about Dr Farmer (about who my opinion is changing, but that’s another post) and arrogance.

Ari made it seem that one of the reasons investigators were unaware of other projects like theirs is that the doctors running the studies and projects were too wrapped up in their own way of doing things to be open to the ideas of others. This seems to weaken their endeavors as the methods of others might (and probably do) have ideas that would strengthen their own work.

Hence the importance of teamwork and also dialogue. Because someone points something out to us, we might realize that we are wrong about certain things and this is difficult to bear. We all have set ideas about how things Ought To Be Done and when we find out we are wrong, it’s not fun. However, when we realize this with humility and strength of purpose, we can turn deficits into surpluses with the help of our colleagues. Also, if we approach our work as essentially collaborative, then these feelings can be more easily reconciled with knowing the positive nature of the outcome of the whole collaborative

Here’s to openness and teamwork!

-Michael Soule



  1. Amity said,

    Michael (and everyone),

    I’m dealing with this exact issue at work right now. By dealing with I don’t just mean that I’ve witnessed this isolationism among researchers/doctors that leads to duplication of effort–one of my projects is coordinating the activities of the “Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) Synergy Group.”

    (Side Note: I’m a research assistant for Physicans and Lawyers for National Drug Policy, which advocates for state and federal drug policies based on scientific evidence and a public health approach. Our website is I do not think it’s a good website, but that’s a different story.)

    Screening and Brief Intervention is sort of a hot topic in the substance use/abuse field. The idea is that a lot of individuals using substances (there is more research on alcohol than drug) at moderate-high-risk levels are not actually addicts, and at visit at a PCP or a trauma center perhaps, a doctor could ask 4-10 questions (depending on the screening tool) and have a pretty acurate assessment of the individual’s drinking/drug problem. Once the screening is completed, a “brief intervention” may be done–it’s technically a type of “treatment,” mostly education about risky drinking and drug use.

    So, a lot of researches/doctors are working on this all across the country. My boss decided it was ridiculous to be duplicating all of these efforts and sent an email to a lot of leaders in the field asking them it they’d be interested coordinating efforts. Most were, but it’s also possible my boss’ friends are an unrepresentative sample…The coordinated effort has involved conference calls, an SBI Synergy Listserv, and a meeting at the AMA in July. My job was to take the minutes…I barely understood what was going on at first, but after editing the minutes and developing the strategic plan for the group, I get it…we’re involved in some awesome stuff. We’re trying to get a smiliar meeting together for the West Coast and get FUNDING!

    Speaking of funding, Michael mentioned the issue of competition for funding as a cause for this research arrogance/isolation/duplication. I would argue further that it is precisely the competition for funding that causes people to be so gaurded about their work. I could just trust people too much…but funding is a serious, serious problem. And especially in the substance use/abuse field, the money is going to the, in my opinion, wrong people. For example, the government supports random student drug testing (RSDT) in high schools. So the Office of National Drug Control Policy is giving away money to school districts who are agreeing to conduct RSDT. RSDT is NOT an effective drug control method. Not at all. When morals overrule science, it pisses me off…that’s a different topic…

    Glad we’re getting this thing going!


  2. msoule said,

    just to clarify, i was referring to competition for grant money as a reason that project leaders do not share their work with others (by way of being so guarded about what they are doing) and thus do not get the benefit of working together. glad to hear the folks you’re working for seem to be looking past that to the better end of more positive outcomes. i’d love to know what the dynamics of those meetings were.

    also to clarify, it turns out i’m basically the Screening portion of a screening and brief intervention program (that also includes Referral and Treatment [SBIRT]). more on that as it evolves, but just wanted to throw that connection out there for you.

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