Our Not-So-Secret Weapon
I’m sure you’ve heard it many times, and there are reminders of it almost every day.
Mississippi ranks high on the “bad” lists – poverty, obesity, teen pregnancy. And we rank low on the “good” lists – educational attainment, household income, physicians per capita. And on and on.
For people who love this state, as I do, these lists are sources of frustration and some embarrassment. But they also provide the motivation to do better, to move the numbers – especially those that pertain to the health of our citizens.
But there is one list I am proud to be at the very top of, and that is the “hospitality” list. Whoever you are and wherever you come from, Mississippians are going to treat you with kindness and generosity. This is part of who we are.
Of course, I am not naïve enough to think this applies to every Mississippian in every hamlet of our state. Vestiges of a difficult and decidedly unwelcoming past are still present today.
But on balance, I think Mississippians are warmly welcoming to visitors to our state. And UMMC, as an organization, has that sense of hospitality as part of our culture.
I was reminded of that last Tuesday at the annual fall gathering of our faculty, in the remarks of Dr. Akeem Adebayo. Dr. Adebayo has the distinction of being the first trainee in our recently established residency program in preventive medicine.
A native of Lagos, Nigeria, and a graduate of that city’s medical school, Dr. Adebayo has been in the United States for nearly a decade pursuing his postgraduate education. He has earned an M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, studied public health at Emory University in Atlanta, and is pursuing a master’s in clinical investigation here at UMMC. In an additional role as an electronic health record consultant and trainer for several years, he is well-traveled in this country, having visited 40 states.
In the first three months of his residency training here, Dr. Adebayo received a high-level overview of the organizational structure and management of UMMC. During that time, he was exposed to many people who work at all levels of the organization. You could say he completed “UMMC 101.”
In an oral report on that immersive experience last week, Dr. Adebayo was asked whether his perception of UMMC before he arrived differed from his actual experience here.
He said, yes, it had. In fact, when he told his friends and family he was considering pursuing an educational opportunity in Mississippi, the response was near universal: Mississippi? Why in the world would you want to go there?
His friends and family, though well-intentioned, were reacting to the stereotype of our state that most people still hold: Racial strife. Backward. Suspicious of outsiders.
Dr. Adebayo said his experience here has been completely counter to that. In fact, he said he has experienced a kind of “reception shock” at the overwhelming welcome he has received from all quarters – one that surpassed that of anywhere else he’s been in this country.
How often have we heard this same refrain through the years when we are recruiting nationally – that because of Mississippi’s reputation, prospective employees don’t give positions here much of a look. But when they actually come here for a visit, their eyes are opened to a very different and much more appealing reality.
I did not hear Dr. Adebayo make his comments directly; they were reported to me by others. But I was so moved by the sentiment he expressed that I invited him to recount his experience at the faculty meeting. He did not disappoint, and I’m grateful to him for sharing his story, and to all of you who have received him so graciously.
Hospitality, that deep reservoir of charity and kindness, is our not-so-secret weapon that sets us apart from many others. Whether we are attending to our patients and their families, mentoring our students, or serving each other in our daily roles, the warm and welcoming way we treat others is something we should always take pride in. On this “good” list we are a solid No. 1, leading the way to A Healthier Mississippi.