Local surgeon-scientist teaches students to “have a dream”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often referred to as one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known. His way of addressing a crowd, and captivating the attention of hundreds of thousands, is a model that public speakers and future leaders strive to emulate.

At a Santa Monica College lecture on April 5, surgeon and UCLA professor Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi told King’s story in the context of leadership principles, but angled the ideologies in a way that would relate to the student crowd.

“You can teach leadership if you start with fundamental principles,” Brunicardi said during the lecture. “I think it’s like teaching music and teaching sports. If you break it down to fundamental principles and you teach it, and a person practices it, they will get better at it.”

SMC community relations director Judy Neveau is in charge of the Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the SMC Associates and life sciences and physical sciences departments.

“It was a different kind of talk for a science lecture,” Neveau said of Brunicardi’s lecture, the second in this semester’s series. “He’s a very accomplished scientist, but he chooses to talk about this because it’s more global.”

Brunicardi is chief of the Santa Monica-UCLA General Surgery Group, and vice chair of the Department of Surgery for Surgical Services at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital.

He started the first leadership program for surgeons in the country, based on Jim Collins’ “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve,” which was published in the Harvard Business Review.

“Level 5 is special; it’s someone that builds enduring greatness,” Brunicardi said. “There is no greater example of level 5 leadership than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Brunicardi expressed how leadership skills can help overcome some commonly faced challenges of the 21st century, such as the 50 million uninsured people in the U.S., the cost of health care, the quest for treatments for cancer and heart disease, personalized genomic surgery, education, and diversity.

“I believe the way to success in the United States is in your higher education,” Brunicardi said. “I think one of the keys in facing all these challenges is to understand leadership principles. If you follow these principles, you can become better leaders in your field.”

“The first principle is whatever you are going to be in charge of, whether it’s your own education, or a large health care organization, or whatever you go on to do, you have to have a vision,” Brunicardi said.

“Usually the vision is based on a principle. It might be graduating college, and the principle is you believe in higher education, and the education will benefit those around you.”

Explaining the same idea in King’s perspective, Brunicardi referred to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

“[King’s] vision was that all people should be equal,” Brunicardi said. “He had a very powerful vision, based upon principles of Christian love and non-violence, and all you needed to participate in it was a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”