Inside Track: ‘Leading with compassion’
Dean of MSU College of Human Medicine preaches treating everybody, especially his patients, with respect.
As a child, Norman J. Beauchamp Jr. always came to the dinner table prepared to answer three questions posed by his mother: How was your day? What was your highlight? And did you achieve your goals?
Beauchamp, who recently was appointed as dean of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said those three simple questions define everything he has tried to accomplish in his adult life.
“For example, ‘how was your day?’ Well, in a world that struggles, you have to ask people how they’re doing and care about the answer,” Beauchamp said. “And if the answer is not one where they’re doing well, you have to take the time to help.
“‘What was your highlight?’ You need to celebrate your accomplishments of today, so that you have the energy to face the challenges of tomorrow. And ‘did you accomplish your goal?’ You have to be very goal focused. So for me, that was incredibly formative and also very much like the core values that we have here in the Midwest.”
A childhood illness is what prompted Beauchamp to consider a career in the medical field. One of the many lessons he learned from his mother was the importance of giving back, and when Beauchamp overcame his sickness, his mother saw it as a sign that helping others with their health issues should be the avenue to do so.
Beauchamp moved around in his early childhood but spent the majority of his formative years in mid-Michigan. One evening, when Beauchamp was 7 years old, he recalls his aerospace engineer father coming home from work and explaining to his children they were no longer going to be spoiled. The family uprooted from their home in Boston and landed on a farm in St. John’s, where Norman Beauchamp Sr. put his children to work.
NORMAN J. BEAUCHAMP, JR.
“We were spoiled, and we got unspoiled,” Beauchamp said. “They bought 200 chickens and 20 cows, and when the free labor went off to college, they sold the animals but kept the farm.”
Beauchamp went to Michigan State for his undergraduate studies, where he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in biology. With a scholarship to attend the MSU College of Human Medicine, he spent two years at the East Lansing campus and his clinical years in Grand Rapids.
Beauchamp completed his surgical internship at Blodgett Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital before moving on to his residency in radiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he also completed a pair of fellowships in neuroradiology and interventional radiology.
It was at Johns Hopkins where Beauchamp caught one of his biggest career breaks. Just three years removed from his training and armed with an expertise in biostatistics, Beauchamp decided to tackle one of his primary frustrations — long patient waiting times.
So, he went to his boss and asked for permission to apply biostatistics systems to help improve efficiencies. He got it, and Beauchamp began teaching technologists, clerks, nurses and physicians in the art of using a six sigma approach to health care. Though he was fairly young and inexperienced, Beauchamp found by treating each of his “students” with compassion and kindness while teaching these complex abstracts, they were willing to work harder to understand them, simply out of a desire to not see their teacher fail.
Within six months, the hospital had substantially increased the number of patients treated, and impressed with his work, Beauchamp was named chairperson for clinical operations at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution.
“It was a team approach, and I’ve tried to maintain and respect that everyone, independent of their background, is incredibly smart and can contribute to making a difference,” Beauchamp said. “I think that was also an early lesson that I’ve carried with me throughout my career.”
Another of Beauchamp’s favorite lessons: “Learn always.” Having decided early on what he wanted to do with his life, the first hurdles seemed to be in, despite knowing the path he would take, not having the skills to get there. So, he began to study, not just books, but also people, taking habits from those who appeared to be effective while also studying the habits of those who weren’t and purposefully avoiding repeating those mistakes.
He studied fields that many would write off as irrelevant, but Beauchamp said he believes “the great advances in health care will come from a convergence of many different backgrounds.” So, he read articles and books on behavioral economics, industrial engineering and change management. So effusively does Beauchamp believe in the idea of always learning, that when he goes jogging, he listens to books on tape.
“I’m a big fan of mixing passions, so running while acquiring knowledge is a very cool thing for me,” he said.
Beauchamp continued his work at Johns Hopkins until 2002, when he took a position as a professor and chairperson of the department of radiology at the University of Washington.
While at UW, Beauchamp continued to preach the importance of compassion in medicine and helped spearhead an initiative which, for one week, created what many called the largest free health clinic in the United States. In 2014, Beauchamp served as medical director of a free health clinic held in Seattle’s KeyArena, former home of the Seattle Supersonics. Over the course of a week, the free clinic helped more than 4,000 patients and has continued annually since.
“Many folks felt that you couldn’t take care of that many people and do it respectfully, but we did a survey afterward, and 97 percent of people felt cared about,” Beauchamp said. ”It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about prestige, but it was about how you help people who struggle. And I would say that leading with compassion will be the key to how we solve these challenges.”
In his return to MSU, Beauchamp found an administration and a community that fits his view of compassionate care to the fullest. Since stepping into the role in October, Beauchamp has had countless encounters with community leaders, not just from university donors like Peter and Joan Secchia, but also leaders at Grand Valley State University and Spectrum Health, to name a few.
“Everything that I’ve thought about the core values, about the commitment to making a difference are borne to be true in my first 45 days,” Beauchamp said.
While attending the MSU College of Human Medicine, Beauchamp recalls speaking with then-dean Donald Weston, telling the late dean that one day, he wanted to return to the university and give back in some way.
Now, he has the chance to do just that.
“As I meet with the staff and faculty here as well, they’ve proven to also be deep believers in helping and lessen the struggles of others, and that has been invigorating,” Beauchamp said.