By Mamadou Ndiaye Jr.
On March 28, Dr. Jim Withers received the Exemplary Leader Award from the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership. Withers was recognized for his work with Operation Safety Net and the Street Medicine Institute. These organizations focus on healthcare provision to the homeless in communities in Pittsburgh and across the globe. At the luncheon held in his honor, Withers spoke about his career path and the need within the healthcare system to become more "humanized.” Withers stated how his parents "vaccinated" him with the understanding of caring for others. He recounted their family trips to Central America where they provided medical relief to those who did not have access to healthcare. He carried this philosophy into his profession as a medical doctor (M.D.).
Withers recounted how the healthcare system lacked some of the "human" qualities needed to treat patients. After seeing this gap, Withers decided to make a change by teaching the next generation of doctors to be more humanistic in their work. He did this through his novel idea of going into the streets to treat the homeless, what he dubs as "street medicine." Withers gave a great deal of insight into the progression of street medicine, but always returned to the central message of care for others, highlighting how important it is for a leader to care for the people they want to serve.
After the luncheon, Withers spoke with a group of GSPIA students participating in the Johnson Institute's Leadership Portfolio Program. In this conversation, Withers catered his discussion to what makes an effective leader. One of his key points was the need to establish and maintain a network of people who have a shared mission. Withers spoke about how through this channel he makes himself available to assist whomever in their street medicine initiative. Through this process it creates new street medicine practitioners who are able to share their knowledge and assist others in the channel. Once again, Withers demonstrated knowledge of a vital leadership trait, creating new leaders capable of sustaining the mission.