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  • A Message from Timothy J. Babineau, MD, President and CEO

  • Timothy Babineau, MD


    As many of you know, I am fond of describing medicine as a team sport. In that spirit, I am ordinarily reluctant to single out an individual for special recognition since ultimately it is the “team” that delivers on our mission. That said, there are exceptions to every rule—and I am making an exception to devote this column to a colleague who has spent the better part of his career here: Dr. Michael Ehrlich.

    One of the busiest specialties at Lifespan, orthopedics is also one of our greatest success stories. How the department grew into a clinical, academic and research powerhouse is the story of leadership -- and what a touch of genius, a lot of hard work, and a love of humanity can accomplish.

    When Michael Ehrlich came to Rhode Island Hospital on January 1, 1990, the hospital had four attending orthopedic specialists. The hospital had been posting significant deficits and had seen the departure of several department chiefs. Space was at such a premium that his first office, he was told, would be in a storage closet. He said that his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was chief of pediatric orthopedics, “thought I was crazy,” but he saw a rare opportunity to build a clinical program at the hospital, shape an academic department at Brown, and continue his research.

    When he retires as Chairman of the Department of Orthopedics at the end of this year, Mike will leave a robust clinical program that has grown to more than 50 physicians, many of whom head national professional groups; an academic program that has become so renowned that it receives 400 to 600 applications every year for its six residencies; and a legacy of groundbreaking research.

    All this didn’t happen by accident. Mike is famous for his prodigious work ethic. His day often begins at 6 a.m. and may end later than 11 p.m. It involves every aspect of our tripartite mission: in the past quarter century, he has mentored hundreds of residents and fellows; written hundreds of articles, abstracts and book chapters that have moved medicine forward; conducted cutting-edge research and raised more than $40 million in research funds; established five endowed professorships; and has improved the lives of thousands of patients. Mike not only “talked the talk”, he absolutely “walked the walk”.

    In articles written about Mike over the years, his patients, now grown, remember him fondly. They recall how he joked with them to ease their fear of hospitals and doctors, and their stories paint a portrait of kindness, warmth and compassion. Imagine the gratitude of parents who witnessed his effort to establish a friendly relationship with their child. And imagine the powerful message to the young surgical residents Mike mentored: practice medicine, humanly.

    That hard work — and make no mistake, it is hard work — to establish that essential, human connection extends to his protégés. Mike’s long days often begin with early morning breakfast meetings with his residents, and he has a reputation of being available at all times to answer a question, provide an explanation or assist in some way. Mike’s abilities and his accomplishments are legendary. But so many young physicians wouldn’t be competing for the chance to train with him if he didn’t also have a reputation of caring about the people he mentors.

    Mike has always led by example. His leadership is rooted in long hours, hard work and an abiding interest in the wellbeing of the thousands of people who have crossed his path over the decades, whether patients, families, residents or colleagues. We are the beneficiaries of that leadership, which has built a program that is second to none in this country and that we all can rely upon with the utmost confidence. On a personal level, Mike has been an invaluable source of wisdom and counsel during my tenure as president of Rhode Island Hospital and now as CEO of Lifespan. Thank you, Mike.

    Few of us are born with Mike Ehrlich’s genius and talents — and yet, we can all follow his example. Whether or not we develop groundbreaking procedures or conduct important research, each one of us has the ability to work hard and care deeply. Each one of us can lead by example. And that just may be Mike Ehrlich’s most enduring legacy.

    In the days and weeks to come, when you come across Dr. Ehrlich in your travels around our system, please take a moment to thank him for a job well done. A true leader and an inspiration, Mike has given the full measure of his time, energy and intellect to our patients, their families, his students and colleagues, and our system. And in so doing, he leaves this place immeasurably better than he found it some 25 years ago.

    In the steadfast pursuit of excellence, I remain,

    Sincerely yours,

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    Timothy J. Babineau, MD

    President, CEO of Lifespan