Resilience: 6 Concepts to Know

Resilience is our ability to recover from tragedy. It’s a quality that trauma professionals need all the time — so why then do we wait to discuss resilience only after a mass casualty incident like the Las Vegas shooting dominates the news?

Simply, we should not. Your level of resilience is greatly influenced by your prior experiences, so the time to start laying the personal groundwork for greater resilience is now.

Read our column in Trauma System News to learn what you can do today.

“We’re In This Together”

Congratulations to Jeff Holmquist (Senior Editor) and Ryan Hall (Photography & Video Specialist) from the Association of Graduates at my alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy. Their article “We’re In This Together” took top honors (Gold Award) for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), District VI as Best Article of the Year!

“Checkpoints” (Alumni Magazine of the United States Air Force Academy)

Their accompanying video also won the Silver Award for general interest videos.

You can view the complete list of award recipients here. I wish them luck as they move on to the national competition!


Top 10 Leadership Pearls

Remember in Pearls of Leadership I asked “if you could go back in time to advise your college self about leadership, what one pearl of wisdom would you give?” Well that was in preparation for the Gilbert Leadership Conference I wrote about in Part 2. Thank you for your responses and as promised here is your Top 10 list of leadership wisdom.

  1. Doing the easy thing makes you popular, while doing the hard thing makes you a leader.
  2. Always take care of those under your command. Empower, encourage, and engage them whenever possible.
  3. Embrace authenticity – you cannot succeed as a leader pretending to be someone/thing you are not.
  4. Be honest with grace and genuine with regard for others’ feelings. Try to honor others in what you say and how you say it.
  5. It’s not a crisis unless lives are at stake. (So don’t let a jammed copier ruin your day!)
  6. Listen more, talk less, and lead from the front!
  7. Success is best defined by knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.
  8. Be a fearless beast!
  9. Seek out additional guidance and learn from those who are in positions you respect.
  10. Take the blue pill!

Your call to action:

Opportunities for good leadership are present in nearly every aspect of our lives – in our homes, our churches, at work, or even among friends. When life presents one of those opportunities, I believe our primary responsibility is one of integrity.

Do your decisions as a leader empower and improve the lives of others? Will they cause more harm than good? Are your motivations pure?

In recent months, we’ve seen some of the best and worst examples of leadership in our elected officials. My hope is that in the coming year, we may all choose leadership filled with courage and integrity – the kind of leadership that breeds light, hope, and justice.

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” – James Baldwin

Happy holidays to you and yours. See you in 2018!


Pearls of Leadership (Pt. 2)

As a white male what can I do to help?”

It is Friday evening and I’m meeting 40 college freshman from Texas A&M gathered in a conference room of a Fortune 500 company in downtown Dallas. Selected through a competitive process to participate in the Gilbert Leadership Conference, they traveled several hours by bus earlier this day for a weekend of activities in the Big D.

Going overtime, we evolve from a robust discussion about leadership into a respectful dialogue regarding individual responsibilities to address racism and social equity.

DSC_0075 (1)Nearing the conclusion of the Q&A, an attendee asks, with all sincerity, “As a white male what can I do to help?”  For a moment I silently contemplate how to answer.   

Mind you, it is not the first time I have been asked this question. However, it is the first time someone so young has asked.

I say this not to disparage his maturity or social awareness, but to share the depth of impression that struck me. Truth be told, I admire his courage and am equally inspired by this group of young adults whose thoughtful and challenging questions belie their age.

However, it is one thing for me to connect with a middle-aged white male, who has decades of life experience upon which to draw. It is quite another responding to an inquisitive college freshman.

Sensing an opportunity, I want to get this right. For both of us. Actually, for everyone in the room.

After a moment, I step forward to answer his question:

  1. Acknowledge we live in a racialized society.  This does not mean that everyone has racist intent, but it does mean that race is the lens through which much of our society is viewed and shaped – from entertainment media to our criminal justice system.
  2. Acknowledge your own bias. Introspection and self-awareness are necessary to understand the prevalence and impact of unconscious racial bias.
  3. Speak up. Those with the power must speak on behalf of those without.

Now I ask, what will you do to help?

Your call to action:

Take the Harvard Race Implicit Association Test. Although it has come under criticism as of late, judge for yourself whether it can be an enlightening tool to give insight into your unconscious racial bias.

And check back Thursday for the “Top 10” list I promised in Part 1.



Docs Outside the Box

Dr. Nii Darko made a special trip to Dallas this weekend to record his very first in-person podcast for Docs Outside the Box.  In less than two years he has gained a loyal following, an expanding guest list, and corporate sponsors.

Nii and I first connected in Atlanta, GA in 2009 while training at the iconic Grady Memorial Hospital. He was nearing the completion of his general surgery residency, and I was in the second (final) year of my fellowship in trauma surgery and critical care medicine. Fast-forward a few years and he is now blazing an envious path as a trauma surgeon and entrepreneur.

As trauma surgeons we don’t like wasting time! So we made the most of his visit by connecting with Dr. Dale Okorodudu who was part of the core group to launch the recent Twitter campaign #BlackMenInMedicine. While watching college football on the big screen we broke bread and discussed strategies to coordinate initiatives happening across the country and take this effort to the next level.


I am honored Dr. Darko chose to make this trip and give me the opportunity to share with you my journey from the Dallas shooting on July 7, 2016 to my resignation on July 15, 2017.






Pearls of Leadership

If you could go back in time to advise your college self about leadership, what one pearl of wisdom would you give? I would tell myself “closed mouths don’t get fed.” You must ask for what makes you feel valued or you may never get it.

I ask this of you because this week I have the honor of gathering with 40 freshmen selected through a competitive process to attend the Gilbert Leadership Conference. My lecture is entitled “Leadership in Times of Crisis: The Intersection of Race, Violence & Medicine”. I want to challenge these young freshman to examine their own implicit biases and actively pursue leadership opportunities to address social injustice.

Please leave a comment below, on Twitter, or on LinkedIn, so I may share your pearls of wisdom with these future leaders. I will also curate a “Top 10” list to share with you in a future post.

To get notified of new blog posts, in the sidebar to the right please ‘Subscribe’ for email updates or ‘Follow Me’.

Thank you.

How I Avoided Prison Life

In Where are all the Black Men… in White Coats? I lamented the decades long decline of African-American men entering medical school. In contrast, the United States criminal justice system has done exceedingly well over the same period. Our country incarcerates a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

While African-American men make up 6% of the US population, we constitute 40% of its prison population. One in three African-American men has a felony conviction, and one in three black boys born today will be processed through the criminal justice system at least once in their lifetime. It is a devastatingly efficient system  Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.” This systematic disenfranchisement of a targeted community of men cannot continue.

As an African-American man I never felt the criminal justice system was intended to protect me. It was meant to protect others from people who look like me.  Fortunately, I avoided my life being branded by the system.

Should I attribute this to my obeying the law, hard work, or getting a higher education? Or maybe I am just morally superior to my incarcerated brethren? To be sure these are tempting explanations when needing to separate myself from “them.” The truth, however, is more nuanced, and involved a lot of luck.

Brother A, an alias I am using to respect his privacy, reminded me of this in a letter he sent in the Fall of 2016, a few months after the Dallas Police Shooting. Weeks passed before I opened his initial letter. In fact one or two more letters arrived in the interim.

And to this day I can still count on a typewritten letter from Brother A every few weeks. Never emails or letters generated from a word processor because computers are forbidden. No handwritten letters either because, I assume, pens and pencils are contraband.

All this because Brother A is incarcerated in the California Department of Corrections. The opening paragraph of his initial letter:


As I prepared this post one year later I read his letter again. And that is when it hit me! Brother A actually quoted me from an NPR interview. I initially overlooked it, but my delayed recognition put his original correspondence in a different context.

To call the realization surreal is an understatement. But it reinforced some personal truths I must never take for granted.

What I learned:

My worldview regarding the criminal justice system was shaped by the experiences of my family, friends, and, of course, the media.  I easily lived by the mantras “well if they would have only done X”, or “if they had not done Y” they would not be in jail. Frequently I added the postscript of “glad it’s not me.”

The truth is obeying the law, working hard, and getting a higher education were not enough. I appreciate that many barriers exist for people of color in this country – and I just got lucky.  I did not grow up segregated in heavily policed neighborhoods, which is a proxy for inequities in jobs, income, education and more. Therefore, my chances of getting getting swept into the criminal justice system were dramatically reduced. Randy Shrewsberry echoes this from his informed perspective as a former police officer in his op-ed I Was A Racist Cop.

For example let’s take a look at Wisconsin which, based on the most recent national census, incarcerates more black men than any other state. In fact, Wisconsin spends more money on prisons than it does on education! Furthermore, in a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, two-thirds of these incarcerated men come from one-half dozen of the poorest zip codes in Milwaukee – the state’s largest city.

And in contrast to the image of a barbaric, gun-slinging black male, most were put away for drug offenses and non-violent crimes. Once processed in the criminal justice system re-entry into society via jobs, education, and voting rights are severely restricted – if not impossible.

It is simple. For me, living in the right zip code made a tremendous difference.

Your call to action:

Watch Ava Duvernay’s 13th which is available on Netflix.  This award-winning  documentary explores racial inequality and the booming African-American prison population. The segment starting at 1hr 20min in the film was a gut punch for me.

In addition to The New Jim Crow I recommend:

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon – Winner of the Pulitzer Prize his novel details the government-run practice of convict leasing which re-enslaved law-abiding black citizens to serve US industry.

Physicians for Criminal Justice Reform – I have joined a group of like-minded doctors working toward the “creation of  a humane, egalitarian justice system.”

To get notified of new blog posts, in the sidebar to the right please ‘Subscribe’ for email updates or ‘Follow Me’.

Thank you.

Racism, Police, and Reconciliation

After the Dallas shooting in July 2016 I received an outpouring of support from law enforcement agencies around the country, and even the Deputy Director of the Dubai Police. I was inundated with letters, emails, phone messages and weighed down with challenge coins.

However, there were some who shared their displeasure about remarks I made during the press conference held days after the shooting. It is one reason, as mentioned in a previous post, I was uneasy when invited to speak at an annual conference for police chiefs in Bend, Oregon. I was an African-American man, with no law enforcement credentials, whose lecture integrated topics related to police use of force. That could be a disaster.

I began my lecture reciting the names of black men and women killed during routine police encounters. Methodically I looked an officer in the eyes, recited a name, and repeated until I said about 10 names. This had proven to be an effective way to set the tone when speaking to students, doctors, and industry professionals – but this day was different.


This time I stood at the podium facing a roomful of 150 command level police officers. Each had decades of law enforcement experience. Looking upon an intimidating sea of white faces I moved onto the historical connection between law enforcement and slave patrols, white supremacists, and mass incarceration. I then transitioned to my own experiences while simultaneously explaining my personal fear of police.

There was rapt silence in the room. Unsure if this was good or bad I pressed on while thinking, “how did I agree to this?!”

Well, months prior I did agree. And weeks before the conference, while finalizing my travel arrangements, I made another critical decision – pushing through my comfort zone into the unknown.

Usually after a speaking engagement I caught the first available flight back home to my family. This time, deviating from routine, I chose to stay for nearly the entire conference. It was the best decision I made.

I had extensive discussions with dozens of chiefs and captains. I sat through hours of their training sessions.  I attended their awards banquet, met their spouses, and shared a few excellent local craft beers (I’m partial to Imperial IPAs).

What I learned:

These men and women taught me many lessons about the type of leadership necessary for racial reconciliation. They showed me how humility, vision, and courage are necessary to bridge this divide. That despite generations of racial animus with black Americans, there are leaders within law enforcement willing to accept this challenge.

Could I have gained this  perspective had I not to stepped out of my comfort zone, respectfully spoke my truth, and actively listened to their responses? Would this opportunity have occurred if Sherwood Police Chief Jeff Groth had not extended the invitation in the first place?

It started with two sides willing to walk in the shoes of the other. One inviting the other to sit at the table and just talk. I applaud the leadership of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police (OACP) who gave me the privilege of the podium. I’m not quite sure they knew what they were getting!

Chief Jeff Groth, Chief Geoff Spalding, Chief John Teague, and Kevin Campbell (CEO – The Victory Group) – OACP Annual Conference, Bend, OR (Apr 2017)


Still the remnants of racism are tightly woven into the fabric of our society. And this type of leadership is not the purview of law enforcement, nor the domain of black Americans. My friend, you also have a critical role.

Your call to action:

What actions, large or small, have you taken within your families, professional circles, or communities to enact positive change regarding bigotry and racism? Do you have the humility to step out of your comfort zone and do something courageous in the future?

I would like to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Google+.

I also recommend:

Watch Terrence M. Cunningham’s remarks at the 2016 International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference where he acknowledged the history of police as the “face of oppression” to many citizens and the need to end the cycle of distrust. The video is less than five minutes.


Where are all the Black Men… in White Coats?

There is a dearth of African-American men in medicine. Statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that 542 black males entered medical school in 1978 compared to 515 who entered in 2014. This drop is alarming considering the increase to nearly 180 schools accepting over 20,000 students annually during the interval 35 years. Medical education is another example where more opportunity has not translated into more equity for African-American men.

Enter Dr. Dale Okorodudu – a tireless advocate working to elevate minorities pursuing careers in medicine. His mission is to connect aspiring doctors, particularly African-American men, with identifiable role models. We were introduced two years ago by our mutual faculty mentor regarding Dr. Okorodudu’s ‘Black Men in White Coats‘ video series. This was well before my media virality, and I was still reticent about doing anything on camera.

A practicing Pulmonary Critical Care specialist and serial entrepreneur, Dr. Okorodudu started ‘Black Men in White Coats’ in 2013 while an internal medicine resident at Duke University. He has advanced from smartphone video recordings to now creating high quality productions filmed at major medical centers around the country.

Filming ‘Black Men in White Coats’ at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, TX (Nov, 2015)

I was asked to participate in what would be one of his first two productions sponsored by a major medical center – a unique opportunity to advance his mission. I agreed, but not until I had several hesitant discussions with my mentor, University representatives, and Dr. Okorodudu.

I am glad I did. Mentoring minorities is a personal and professional passion, and the response to his production was tremendous – connecting me with scores of future doctors of color.

Dr. Dale Okorodudu and the crew from UT Southwestern Medical Center (Nov, 2015)

Dr. Okorodudu is transforming the profession of medicine and when he calls upon me I never decline. That is why I am honored to join him Thursday, Oct 5 at 8pm EDT (7pm CDT) for his free webinar. I hope you will sign up for a lively discussion titled “Medical Justice.”


To learn more about Dr. Dale Okorodudu’s mission to erase racial disparities in medical education please visit Diverse Medicine and PreMed StAR