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In high school, math teacher Mrs. Olive Walcott told Selwyn Rogers he had “the gift of understanding.”
Rogers wasn’t sure what she meant at the time, but that gift manifests itself every day at BWH as he cares for patients, leads clinical and research teams, mentors residents and works to reduce disparities in health care on a national level.
It’s also one of the reasons that Rogers, chief of the Division of Trauma, Burns and Surgical Critical Care, is the winner of BWH’s 2008 Thomson Leadership Award, which is named in honor of the late Dennis Thomson, vice president of Public Affairs from 1991 to 1998.
“On a day to day, hour by hour basis, Dr. Rogers consistently does the right thing for his patients and his colleagues,” said Mary Pennington, MSN, RN, CCRN, CNRN, critical care program manager in the Center for Nursing Excellence, who was one of two nurses who nominated Rogers for the award. “His vision and belief in the possibility of achieving excellence drives the health care teams he leads to work harder toward those goals.”
Rogers credits his teams in the Center for Surgery and Public Health and the Division of Trauma, Burns and Critical Care. “I’m blessed to come to work to lead people who share my values: integrity, compassion and doing the right thing when no one is watching,” he said.
The team Rogers directs in the Center for Surgery and Public Health attests to his inspirational leadership. “He has an ability to make you feel you are a valuable asset to not only his department, but the hospital as a whole,” said Jill Steinberg, MPH, RN, quality program manager in the center, who also nominated Rogers. “Dr. Rogers inspires us to dream big dreams for the center, and it has grown into a thriving, nationally known think tank of dedicated researchers on the cutting edge of surgical outcome and health disparities research.”
Rogers is a driving force behind a national data collection project to catalog surgical outcomes data and reduce disparities in care. “It should not be debatable who gets access to health care or surgery,” said Rogers, who continues to push the Center for Surgery and Public Health in new directions in the quest to improve quality of care worldwide. That includes the possible creation of a global surgery fellowship program.
He also remains steadfast in his commitment to providing the highest quality of care to trauma patients at BWH. “Selwyn built the critical care division from the ground up at a time and place when no one was sure it was going to happen,” said Surgeon in-Chief Michael Zinner, MD. “He is an inspirational leader, a thoughtful and compassionate surgeon and a pied piper for young people.”
Rogers encourages his team of nurses, surgeons, care coordinators, social workers, therapists and other care providers to focus on the patient. “When we suspend our individual angles, biases and perspectives and focus on what’s best for the patient, our values align and the patient gets the best care,” he said.
Understanding each patient’s needs is important to Rogers. One night while on call, he met an 86-year-old patient with a bowel obstruction who needed surgery at 2:30 a.m. He spent a half hour talking with her about the surgery, allaying her fear and learning about her life. “I know she remembers that more than anything else from that experience,” he said.
That’s the kind of compassion and commitment Rogers, a native of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, saw in his mentors during his residency and strives to impart on medical students and residents now.
“It’s a two-way street; you have to give to receive,” he said. “You have to open up yourself to the possibility that you can learn from someone who doesn’t look like you or talk like you.”
Rogers relates to residents who aren’t sure what specialty to choose. He explored oncology and vascular, thoracic and pediatric surgery before deciding on trauma. “I like the spectrum of trauma surgery,” he said. “You don’t have a relationship with a trauma patient until that exact moment when they entrust you with their life. It’s an honor.”