Dr. Fleming Becomes President: Music's Loss Is Medicine's Gain

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Trusted Leader - May 2009  


Tex Med. 2009;105(5):41-44.  

By Larry BeSaw

If William H. Fleming III, MD, had made another career choice, you wouldn't be reading this story. You might be listening to his latest CD instead.

Faced with the reality that he should keep his day job, young Bill Fleming answered his true calling and began a 30-year career as a neurologist and an active member of the Texas Medical Association. That activism led to him holding such positions as Harris County Medical Society president and vice speaker and speaker of the TMA House of Delegates. It was capped off this month when he took the oath as TMA's 144th president.

Born and raised in Memphis, Dr. Fleming received his undergraduate degree from Kansas University, then spent three and a half years in the Air Force. After his discharge, he earned his medical degree from St. Louis University. That was followed by an internship at McGill University in Montreal and a neurology residency at the Mayo Clinic. From there, he moved to Houston because "I got tired of the cold," and a fellow Mayo alumnus in Houston was looking for a partner.

Dr. Fleming visited with Texas Medicine as he prepared to take office. 

Texas Medicine: How did you choose medicine as a career?

Dr. Fleming: I had always wanted to become a doctor since I was a child. But I strayed for a little while and didn't know what I wanted to do. I was a musician. I played alto sax, the bassoon, and piano. I played in the high school and KU marching and concert bands and in a 16-piece jazz orchestra in high school. I also played in some rock and jazz bands while I was in college.

Texas Medicine: Did you think about doing it professionally?

Dr. Fleming: I thought about it for while, for about a minute. Then I figured out it didn't pay very well unless you're very good. But the real factor was my desire to help people. Plus, I was influenced by my family physician.

Texas Medicine: How do you feel about being TMA's first African-American president?

Dr. Fleming: Although it's way over due, I try to downplay it. Chappie James (the first African-American four-star Air Force general) said, "We'll never achieve equality in this country until we stop saying first." It's a milestone in some ways, and in other ways it's a non-issue. I stand on the shoulders of the African-American physicians who came before me, like Dr. Frank Bryant. I represent all the doctors. I'm the face of Texas medicine.

Texas Medicine: Does TMA need to do more to increase the number of minority physicians and young doctors in the association and get them to participate in TMA activities?

Dr. Fleming: I think TMA should make a bigger effort to recruit more minorities and young physicians. I'm not sure we do a good enough job. But I will say that I've been going to TMA meetings for 30 years and there's been a tremendous increase.

Texas Medicine: Do you have any specific proposals to do that?

Dr. Fleming: When you go to TMA meetings, you see the same faces all the time. Some doctors just don't participate for whatever reason, especially the young ones. They don't have the time; they don't have the money. Even if they had the desire, they just don't have the money to do it. They can't get away from their practices; they may have small kids. TMA has come a long way, but in order to get the young people to participate, you have to have something for the young people to do. You have to make arrangements for their wives or husbands and especially the kids. Aside from the time and money, child care is probably the biggest factor.

Texas Medicine: What are your plans for your presidency?

Dr. Fleming:  I plan to promote two things. First is health system reform. The system is broken and we need to fix it. TMA has established a Select Committee on Health Reform. We'll await its recommendations. We'll also adhere to the TMA Principles on Health Care Reform.

Second is access to care. We have to improve the access. When 30 percent of the population is either uninsured or underinsured, it's a problem. This 30 percent gets either no care, or delayed care, or poor care. We'll wait and see what Mr. Obama is going to do to us.

Texas Medicine: We've been through the Medicare fee battle every year for the last few years. What do we need to do to fix the Medicare payment system?

Dr. Fleming: It's not going to get fixed unless you put more money in the system. The problem is the Budget Neutrality Act of 1992. There's only so much money in the pot. I don't believe Congress is willing to put any more money in the system at this point, so the first step is fixing the Sustainable Growth Rate formula.

Texas Medicine: Every year as the scheduled fee cut is about to take effect, organized medicine mobilizes and urges physicians to contact their local members of Congress to stop the cut.
How can we avoid those last-minute pleas?

Dr. Fleming:  We know the cut is coming. It's going to be 20 percent next year if something isn't done. I urge our members to start calling, writing, or e-mailing Congress now. We've made our case clear in the Medicare Manifestos I and II. We have to change the Medicare system. We can't keep going through this last-minute fight again and again. 



Tyler Nurse Heads TMA Alliance

Years of involvement in the Texas Medical Association Alliance culminated this month for D'Anna Wick, of Tyler, when she became alliance president at TexMed 2009. That involvement began while her husband, psychiatrist Paul H. Wick, MD, was in medical school.

"I wanted to be a partner with him in the medical profession, so we could work as a team to make a difference in people's lives," said Ms. Wick, a nurse.

"The alliance is dedicated to improving the well-being of Texans and the practice of medicine. We do that through service, whether we're giving immunizations, bicycle helmets, health scholarships, or our time," she added.

Ms. Wick has held several positions with the alliance. She has served as a district director, vice president of community health, vice president of fiscal affairs, and parliamentarian. She also has chaired the Budget and Finance Committee and has served on the Membership Committee.

In Tyler, Ms. Wick has been involved with the Smith County Medical Alliance for several decades. She has served as the organization's president and has chaired several committees. She received the organization's Heart of Gold Award in 2002.

She developed Hospice of East Texas in Tyler during the 1980s and served as its first executive director for seven years. Ms. Wick also has been a nursing instructor in Amarillo, Tyler, and Galveston.

Through the years, she has given much back to her community. Currently, she is a nurse volunteer at the Bethesda Health Clinic. Ms. Wick has been president of the Junior League of Tyler, president of the Texas Psychiatric Alliance, and chair of Hospice of East Texas. In addition, she is involved with the symphony and the Tyler Rose Festival.

Ms. Wick received her bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Mississippi and her master of science degree in interdisciplinary studies from The University of Texas at Tyler.

"The goal of the alliance is to work with the doctors in our communities in their role to keep everybody healthy," said Ms. Wick. "We support medicine and each other with an amazing group of people who can get the job done quickly and correctly. We're a great partner for community groups."

Larry BeSaw can be reached by telephone at (800) 880-1300, ext. 1383, or (512) 370-1383; by fax at (512) 370-1629; or by email at  Larry BeSaw.  



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