July 2009

What defines us

Especially this month, when we celebrate the birth of our country, it’s unsettling to reflect that we almost didn’t have one.

As you may remember from high school history, Philadelphia hosted a Constitutional Convention, 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, to try to define the nation we would become. The sense of common cause the colonies had shared during the fight for independence had worn off by then, and people were jockeying for position. The large states wanted representation that would reflect their relative size. The small ones, fearing their voices would be lost, wanted equal say for every state.

The tug-of-war came perilously close to breaking the Convention apart. But at the eleventh hour, a man named Roger Sherman proposed the “Great Compromise,” a two-chamber Congress that would give each side part of what it wanted. Without his intervention, we might not have a “United” States at all.

As the countries of Western Europe would rediscover some two centuries later in forming the European Union, and as we ourselves are discovering as we seek to become a truly integrated academic medical center, keeping an eye on the greater good is definitely not something that always comes naturally. It may be clear that everyone has to give (and probably give up) something for the whole to emerge collectively stronger. But there’s always the temptation to conclude: “Oh sure, that applies to everyone but me.

We’ve recently had some very compelling evidence of what happens when we all pull in the same direction. These past weeks, we’ve had three extraordinary endorsements, from very different sources, of our efforts to move forward as a whole: the wonderfully generous $100 million gift from the Druckenmiller Foundation, the $29.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, and our return, for the first time in 13 years, to the Honor Roll in the 2009 U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” survey.

To me, this is proof positive. What defines us is not individual programs, centers, or departments, no matter how superb they may be. It’s who we are together.