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What Makes People Do Great Things? Alan Dow Reflects on Dr. Thibault’s Impact

New York, NY

An excerpt from our Special Report of the President.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the willingness to do something despite your fear.

The central premise of this quote, variations of which have been attributed to FDR, Mandela, and others, is people taking action despite risk. But why do people take a risk? What moves people to achieve great things? George Thibault might have the answer.

Seven year ago, I sat in the library of the Macy Foundation making conversation with Peter Goodwin. It was a few moments before my interview with the selection committee for the Macy Faculty Scholars, and I don’t think I had been that nervous since my wedding day. I felt my heart racing and my throat going dry. Peter was gracious, but I honestly just wanted to get out of that room and get this interview over.

My time came.

I climbed the steps to the large double doors. They swept open revealing a long table surrounded by figures in formal dress.

Grinning at the head of the table was George who I recognized from the Foundation’s website. While luminaries of our field flanked him, it was George’s grin that transfixed me.

It was grin that said, “Welcome.”

It said, “Do not be afraid.”

It was a coach saying to the player before the key moment of the game, “You’ve got this.”

I just focused on the grin and stopped being nervous. We had a great conversation. The hour flew by. And, I guess it went okay since I joined the Scholar family a couple months later.

Becoming a scholar was transformative for me, my students, and my community. I began thinking about healthcare and health professions education much more broadly. Since then, I have worked to reshape how we deliver both. But, it started with that grin.

That might sound too mystical, but I’ve seen George have similar impact in many other places. In my field of health professions education, particularly interprofessional education, George is spoken of with reverence by individuals across professions in forum after forum, conversation after conversation. So many people have been personally influenced by George. His energy and passion have touched hundreds if not thousands.

Yet, that is not the full scope of his impact. People from outside health professions education have similar admiration for George. Marc Williams and Jon Perlin spring to mind. These are leaders doing some of the best work of our time, and they point back to George as a profound influence on their careers.

So what makes people do great things? Perhaps it’s confidence. Perhaps it’s a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps it’s gaining a new perspective or meeting someone with a different background. I don’t know the answer. But, I do know how I might start.

I’d ask George.

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