Ripley brings ‘big ideas’ on medical leadership

Former engineer and physicist Bret Ripley left a career in the defense industry to pursue paths much more intensely hands-on and personal: family practice, osteopathic manual medicine and education. In addition to the hats he wears at DMU, he presents regionally and nationally on topics ranging from behavioral medicine to educational philosophy. His recommended reading: Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership.

Bret-Ripley-portraitAsk anyone what’s the most important qualifier to get into health care, and the response likely will relate to a high level of academic/scientific knowledge. The course work, exams and evaluations of medical schools and health care professions underscore that belief. But Bret Ripley, D.O., FACOFP, believes one’s emotional intelligence is a big factor as well.

“Getting a good score on the MCAT is not all you need to be a great doctor,” says the new DMU clinician and chair of the family medicine department. “We do some emotional evaluation in medical school interviews, but it would be great to incorporate emotional intelligence testing more consistently.”

Ripley promoted that “big idea” as one of 10 members of the inaugural class of the Physician Leadership Institute (PLI) of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians. ACOFP created the PLI to identify, prepare and support members to be leaders in the ACOFP and their local organizations. The institute trains emerging leaders in providing strategic direction in the evolving health care arena. The cohort members select a concentration from three areas – political, organizational and academic leadership – and learn about their area through mentorship, reading assignments, online discussions and face-to-face meetings during the 12-month program.

The PLI program culminates in a “big idea” presentation at the American Osteopathic Association’s annual Osteopathic Medical Conference and Exhibition, held in Las Vegas last October.

Ripley, who was named an ACOFP Fellow in the spring of 2013, is a 2001 graduate of A.T. Still University Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he completed a fellowship in manipulation. He then completed a dually accredited family practice residency at United Health Services in Johnson City, NY. After three years in rural practice in Kentucky, he served as osteopathic residency director and osteopathic director of medical education at the Shenandoah Valley Family Practice Residency in Front Royal, VA. In 2011, Ripley added the job of chief academic officer at the Appalachian Osteopathic Postgraduate Training Institute in Pikeville, KY, to his already full-time duties.

A former engineer and physicist in the defense industry, Ripley says the Physician Leadership Institute gave him the “vocabulary” to better understand and apply concepts of leadership and management in medical care.

“To me, leadership is finding the vision of a group and helping it attain that vision,” he says. “Management is the day-to-day operations, the budget and the five-year strategic plan. But defining that plan and getting people to buy into the vision are leadership.

“Almost every job is a combination of both,” he adds. “As a professor, you need to teach students day to day, but you also need to give them a vision. As a physician, you’ve got patients who need care, but you also want to help them see a vision of themselves as healthier. You provide medical management of their conditions but also the motivation to get them walking 10,000 steps. That’s how leadership and management function together.”

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