My son wants a government job. After obtaining a Masters degree in Public Policy, with an emphasis on economics, he was the envy of his classmates when he actually got a job. He has been working for the last seven months for a giant consulting corporation. Early every Monday morning, at the bidding of his superiors, he takes an early flight from Los Angeles to Denver. Once he gets there, he rents a car and drives it to the company where he is consulting to remedy an old story—the company grew too big, too fast, and the folks who had the great idea, and who started their little company at the ground floor are baffled and bewildered by the demands of a grown up interstate business. My son works from early in the morning until early in the morning—sixteen to seventeen hour days being the norm. At the end of the week, he flies back to Los Angeles, where he actually lives. By the end of this month, he will hear whether he won the Presidential Management Fellowship he applied for. If he did, he will go to Washington, DC and join one of the bureaus or the State department where he will learn the intricacies of our government while making low wages and in all likelihood, being expected to work nine to five.
I don’t get it, as much as I admire public service. Perhaps it is because I actually HAVE a government job, but only in the sense that I am paid through the University of California. My benefits and retirement plan are top notch. My mentality however, if not my salary, is still back in the private practice customer service mode. In my little satellite department, we start early and we work late and we get the job of treating cancer patients done, no matter how long it takes. When I took this job five and a half years ago, I was at the “mother ship” cancer center for a year, while the satellite was being built. This gave me the opportunity, for the first time in my career, to observe folks who actually treat the business—no, the “calling”—of caring for cancer patients as a government job. Each role, whether it be receptionist, billing specialist, or medical assistant is fragmented down to its smallest components, and each person is judged by whether they can manage their own limited but particular task. Never have the words “not in my job description” been adhered to so strictly.
When I hired my staff for the new satellite in 2008, my prime objective was to get people who shared my vision of service to patients, and who I knew would go above and beyond their job descriptions if necessary. People who could cross cover other department members, and who were eager to learn new skills were at the top of my list. I did not want to hire anyone who used an answering machine to screen calls. I wanted one thing—plain and simple—commitment to the best care for our mutual patients. No matter what the job description or who pays the salary and the rent, caring for cancer patients cannot be just another “government job.”
I know my son well enough to know that wherever he lands, he will be a leader, and he will strive for excellence and demand that others do so as well. Give him a little time, and the government may never be the same!