Recently I heard an interview with Dr. Frank Veith, vascular surgeon, medical pioneer, author, lecturer and founder of the famed VEITHsymposium for Vascular & Endovascular Issues, Techniques and Horizons. “VEITH,” as it is fondly known, is an annual meeting of vascular and interventional specialists now in its fourth decade. I confess that my initial reaction years ago upon hearing of a surgeon who named a symposium after himself (acronym notwithstanding) was that he must have a pretty big ego. The interview I heard recently taught me otherwise, and I learned once again what I too often forget: Never assume.
The interview is available on the VEITHsymposium site. The interviewer, obviously a fan, asks fairly softball questions, which makes Dr. Veith’s candid responses all the more refreshing. Let’s listen:
INTERVIEWER: How many times have you gone into someone’s body?
VEITH: I’d say between 5,000 and 10,000 times …
INTERVIEWER: So I’m going to go under the assumption that whether you do it today, tomorrow or next week, you’re not going to be nervous. But how did you feel the first time you did it?
VEITH: On the contrary, I do get concerned, because every operation is different, and the outcome isn’t known until it’s over. … So each operation is anxiety producing of course for the patient and also for the doctor if he’s a good one.
Veith goes on to counter the notion that all surgeons want to do is cut, cut, cut:
VEITH: It’s also the reason I believe that any patient that can be treated non-operatively or non-interventionally probably should be treated that way. It’s safer, and probably in the long run, better for the patient.
And when the interviewer expresses all-out admiration, Veith takes a nice turn:
INTERIEWER: Do you ever think about the fact — and maybe I’m sitting here kind of in awe of your talent and your skills … I mean, you save people’s lives. When you get up in the morning and you’re shaving, do you ever look at yourself in the mirror and think, "You know, I save lives." Are you aware of what you’re doing?
VEITH: Well, we not only try to save their lives, we’re trying to save their extremities, their brain, whatever, by preventing the bad effects that come from hardening of the arteries. But we have to always keep in mind that sometimes what we do makes the patient worse or doesn’t help them. And that’s again why I feel so strongly that the key to being a good doctor is to know when not to do something and not doing things that are harmful to the patient.
So there you have it: A modern-day Hippocratic oath in action. First, do no harm. Don’t take advantage of your patients. Don’t let your superior knowledge go to your head. These are principles spelled out in Hippocrates’ ancient dictum.
I’d like to meet Frank Veith someday. Maybe by then I’ll have my own Brand Strategist’s Oath spelled out that I can show him and credit him with its inspiration. My first rule would be First, Do No Harmful Assuming — make sure I know what’s really going on in a particular market before I make a diagnosis and scrub in to suture together a new brand. The second rule would be to evaluate whether branding must be done at all. The third: Anxiety Is Good. It means you care. There’d also be something in there about strategists not having to work on their birthdays.
What about you? What might your own Hippocratic oath look like? What about your livelihood are you passionate about? I’d love to hear.
Rob Kinslow is vice president for strategic communications at Seidler Bernstein. A journalist by training and former president of the American Medical Writers Assn. in Boston, Rob gently guides companies through the often byzantine world of brand and message strategy. His work has been recognized by the American Hospital Assn., AMWA, Diagnostic Marketing Assn., the Healthcare Information Awards, Rx Club and others. An avid magician and musician, he is also a former three-term president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in Boston.