Nine months ago at an event celebrating our Medical School’s Medical Arts Program, I met Alex Kip – an extraordinary and talented young man who is a recent graduate of Michigan’s Musical Theater program and also a cancer survivor. Meet Alex:

Alex Kip is the epitome of courage. In the face of having his Broadway dreams destroyed, he adapted to his new reality and turned it into a way to evolve and reinvent himself as a person and as an artist. It can be easy to give up and become a victim of circumstance. It is not easy to confront and surmount obstacles that get in the way of your dreams. Yet, that’s what Alex has done.

Today, he’s producing a show about his experience called My Other Voice, he’s sharing his story broadly to promote awareness and he is helping to raise funds for cancer research through Pelotonia.

Alex’s story is not unlike many we encounter all of the time in our Health System. Day in and day out, we engage with people who are dealing with scary and stressful life-altering and life-threatening situations.

Let’s be honest – we deliver a lot of bad news. But, more often than not, in the face of that bad news and the journey that follows, we are privileged to witness and experience transformational moments of strength, survival and courage. Nothing is more inspiring.

As you know, I believe that there are several attributes that distinguish extraordinary institutions and extraordinary individuals from ordinary institutions and ordinary individuals, and I call these the 7Cs. The 7Cs are Moral Compass, Compassion, Contribution, Commitment, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. After meeting Alex and because of the many similar stories that abound at UMHS, I’ve decided that it’s time to add Courage as the 8th C.

Survival Flight Memorial WallI’ve seen courage in many forms across our Health System.

There was the Survival Flight crash in 2007. Although I was still in Indiana at the time, I remember hearing the devastating news. To this day, I am moved and inspired by the fact that the UMHS community had the courage to mourn together, support one another and move forward more determined than ever to honor the lives of those we lost.

Then there was last year’s child pornography case, which put our Health System and our University under great scrutiny. It was a troubling and difficult time for all of us, and we courageously took ownership of the issue, implemented important changes and demonstrated that UMHS is an institution of high ethics, and that when a mistake is made, we do not focus on blame, but instead on addressing the root cause of the problem in order to continuously improve and do better.

This year, we have faced significant financial challenges, and when we put out a call to action, you stepped up and implemented improvement strategies that have already had substantial positive impact. We have more work to do and we need to prioritize ongoing good stewardship of our resources, but based on what we’ve already accomplished in these last several months, I am confident that we will weather the storm brought about by increasing competition, sequestration, health care reform and other challenges. This is not easy work, and it takes great courage.

And personally, I learned the true and most raw meaning of courage when I was faced with my husband Mark’s death. That experience taught me about perspective and balance. When you are confronted with something so massive, so unexpected and so disruptive to your life and your future, you become acutely aware of what is truly important to you. And this month, the loss of our dear friend and colleague Dr. Steven Gradwohl once again reminded me of this lesson and of what is fundamentally important – things like family, friends and making a meaningful difference in the world. In the face of life-changing events, you remember who you are and the values that define you.

When you remain true to your values, you have the courage to forge ahead. This is not only true of individuals, but also of institutions.

I am proud that we are a courageous institution that displays this virtue not only in the face of adversity, but always.

By being even more courageous – bolder, more innovative, more entrepreneurial and more risk-taking – we will further distinguish ourselves as leaders and best, as a premier academic medical center and as the institution and the community that will create the future of health care.

What act(s) of courage inspire(d) you?

9 thoughts on “Courage”

Jane Miller on May 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm said:

Alex is a courageous, brilliant and extraordinary young man. Thank you for sharing this inspirational story with us on Medicine That Speaks.

Mary Masson on May 31, 2013 at 9:23 am said:

Alex’s story is so inspiring. Every day, I am inspired by patients like him who in the face of chronic and difficult health issues continue to show bravery and positive attitudes. Good luck to you Alex!

Norman Hogikyan on May 31, 2013 at 9:45 am said:

I just wanted to say thanks to you for highlighting Alex and his voice journey. I have come to know him very well from onset of his vocal fold paralysis up through the present. He is a remarkable young man. Alex subsequently participated in the World Voice Day concert sponsored by our U-M Vocal Health Center on April 16. In addition to celebrating World Voice Day for which the 2013 theme was “Connect With Your Voice”, we also celebrated cancer survivorship. We enjoyed performances from many U-M SMTD students and other undergrads, and Alex performed and shared his story. One of my larynx cancer patients who has undergone total laryngectomy also spoke about his voice journey. Hearing him speak, without his larynx and using a reconstructed phonatory mechanism, was a compelling testament to the fact that the human voice is one of the core elements that define us all. The undergraduate students in attendance in particular said that it was a powerful message for them to witness.

Andy Harris on May 31, 2013 at 10:27 am said:

What a fantastic story and a courageous young man! It takes a lot of inner strength to revisit one’s cancer diagnosis/experience, and I commend him for doing so in such a public manner. I never cease to be amazed by the grace and determination of our patients, and by how many go on to use their experiences to raise awareness and turn their diagnoses into positive stories and causes for service.
This is a wonderfully empowering story – thank you for sharing it with us.

Mary Jo Maksym on May 31, 2013 at 11:53 am said:

Dear Ora:
Today I received an email from a friend at Ohio University who received and watched your video about Alex’s journey and message on courage. She was inspired, so I just wanted to share that with you!
Alex has the support and healing thoughts of those he has touched with his story across our nation. Thank you for sharing.

Amanda Howard on May 31, 2013 at 12:53 pm said:

I was so enlightened and encouraged by your message yesterday, adding courage to your C’s. Each message that is sent or posted on Medicine that Speaks is very thought provoking. It made me want to write something that would encapsulate each of the C’s and could be attributed to both our work here at the University of Michigan and also to our everyday lives. I firmly believe in the success of your C’s. I am sharing with you what I have written. I am doing so because I hope that you will note that the application of each “C” is possible with every single person and in every type of job. Thank you for always being so motivating!

The 8 C’s
Every so often an idea is born,
Something so thought provoking and great.
It is very focused yet broad reaching,
To which many diverse people can relate.
This very phenomenon is happening now,
With an idea that has been shared recently.
It is a way of governing our institution, our lives,
Through the simplicity of Dr. Pescovitz’s 8 C’s.
We first talk about a Moral Compass,
Within each of us there is this “C”.
Knowing what is right and who you are,
And what you want to be.
It is that voice you hear inside your head,
That will never lead you astray.
The reassurance that we each seek,
To guide us on our way.
Working at an institution such as ours,
Compassion is a “C” for which we must strive.
We constantly face tragedy and pain,
Yet it pushes us to have more motivation and drive.
Our hearts open to a world of empathy,
We join together in an organized fashion.
We are bonded by a common element,
That of unfaltering compassion.
We must realize that we each make a difference,
Everyone plays a crucial role in this institution.
Whether we are doctors, nurses, administrative, or research,
We have the ability to make a Contribution.
No task is too menial or simple,
Every person’s job is connected to that of another.
We may contribute on different levels,
But we are undoubtedly helping each other.
Commitment is a very important “C”
It is the hard work that we each do.
The University of Michigan would not be what it is,
Without the time and dedication from you.
We understand when we must push harder,
We know that we cannot quit.
It applies to every aspect of life,
If you want results, you must commit!
U of M is such a massive place,
The everyday happenings become so much.
Things would not go nearly as well,
If we did not stay in touch.
From staff meetings to classroom lectures,
Office visits to transcribing dictations.
The only way to make it all work,
Is to be in constant Communication.
It has been said many times before,
United we stand, divided we fall.
Collaboration is necessary for success,
And this applies to all.
Common ideas and goals will lead the way,
Joint efforts breed success.
When we work together to accomplish a task,
That is when the results are best.
It takes one person with a brilliant idea,
To change the way things are done.
Looking at the same thing in a different way,
Finding a way to make it fun.
Creativity is what makes the world go round,
It takes the everyday things and rearranges.
It allows for the birthing of new ideas,
The breeding ground for changes.
The final of the 8 “C” ‘s,
The hardest one of all.
We each must show great Courage,
We must be proud and stand tall.
Success means taking risks,
Never fearing that we will fail.
Having the strength to overcome,
To shine on a grander scale!
These 8 “C”s may be hard to embrace,
But just give each attribute a chance.
They will help to guide you through your life,
In every circumstance!

Mimi Weisberg on May 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm said:

Ora, This is a beautifully written story which touches me, as a community member, in many ways. First and foremost, this young man is an inspiration. His courage serves as a reminder to all people that perseverance is key especially in light of serious circumstances. Additionally, the story reminds me how truly special it is to have access to phenomenal physicians and a health system that continues to offer exemplary service. We are so lucky! Finally,in my professional life, I have also adopted the health system’s 7Cs. UMHS serves as a model of excellence in every way. Thank you for this very special piece.

Alex Kip on July 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm said:

Ora, thank you for the beautiful write up about my show and journey. We cannot wait to bring MY OTHER VOICE to the Ann Arbor community and are so looking forward to possibly teaming up! See you all soon!
MY OTHER VOICEFan of the 8 C’s on July 14, 2013 at 12:25 am said:

I enjoy your 8′Cs series and emphasis on compassion and empathy. I like the fact that the first of this is Moral Compass and a leader who emphasizes these as the top 3. It asks us individuals to always do the right thing regardless of the cause. It reminds me of MLK’s Quotes on doing the right thing:
Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thank you for encouraging that individuals do the right and compassion thing.