When Great Talent Meets Great Attitude

Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, the honorary speaker at Rush University’s commencement ceremony April 28, is president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and the first woman to lead this free-standing institution. A renowned infertility specialist and researcher, she is founding director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, one of the nation’s first research centers devoted to studying diseases that disproportionately impact women of color.

We recently talked to Montgomery Rice about her thoughts about health care and leadership.

How has the health care landscape changed since you first entered the field, and what do you believe the near future holds?

On the 50th anniversary of the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, many took the opportunity to reflect on the progress of health care equity, as Dr. King was a dedicated advocate. Although we have taken steps in the right direction, our march toward health equity is clearly far from over in terms of giving people what they need to achieve their optimal health levels. Unfortunately, the challenges that exist with marginal incomes and lower levels of education continue to create the schisms and inequities in the quality of health. So, while the gaps may not be as wide as when I entered the health field, gaps still exist. And any gap is inhumane.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were in school?

There are so many ways to have impact. It’s not the big things that matter so much as it’s the small things that accumulate to be a big thing. We sometimes believe that, to make a difference, our contributions must be large, such as giving financially to our institutions as alumni. So, we delay in giving back. Our institutions would welcome any size gift. Our schools just want to know that we still remember them. Our volunteer time in many cases is equally important.

What are your thoughts on the importance of developing leaders and giving people a chance to grow?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” I would add that, as leaders, possessing great talent is not always enough; it must be coupled with a great attitude. This combination will not only open doors for you, it will also let you stay inside.

As leaders develop, we must encourage them to awaken the leader within. They must take the time to disconnect from all the outside influences, voices, and impressions, and take note of what their past and present have taught them. Then, they must synthesize the information and use it to shape their best self.

Without giving too much away, what do you have planned for your commencement speech? What do you hope graduates will take away from your talk?

My hope is to speak to their transition. This is a very special and exciting time, but it’s also a bit scary. I want all graduates to think about how they would answer the question: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

And to all of those that are looking forward to commencement, I’d say this: Finish strong and graduate. And I will see you at commencement.