May 18, 2019
(Watch the video of the president's speech)
DALLAS – The Texas Medical Association (TMA) installed Austin surgeon David C. Fleeger, MD, is its 154th president on Saturday. Dr. Fleeger assumed his new post at the TMA House of Delegates policymaking body at TexMed, the association’s annual conference, showcase, and expo.
“It’s certainly a great honor,” said Dr. Fleeger. “We are in a profession that’s in a time of transition and more challenges than there have been historically.”
Equipping physicians to roll with the changes facing TMA and medicine today is one of his priorities for his term as president, as is protecting the patient-physician relationship. He is compelled to fight the interference doctors face from health insurance, regulatory bodies, and other non-physicians who seek to dictate patient care.
Dr. Fleeger rallied a packed room of physician colleagues during his installation speech, speaking with reverence about the honor and privilege of caring for patients, and the responsibility that accompanies this gift.
“Our hands bring [patients] into this world, we guide them through illness and health, and we are present at their last breath,” he said. “Yet, I have concerns... that our medical profession is becoming a mere trade, a technical skill, a line item on a spread-sheet. There are those who would prefer that it be so, those who prefer that we be called providers, who treat ‘clients,’ ‘customers,’ or ‘covered lives.’ But we are not. And we don't. We are physicians who treat our patients.”
He described physicians’ responsibility to lead, supervise, educate, and monitor the other members of the health care team, and guide changes in the health care system with what he called “timeless and unchanging core values” of “uncompromising and un-conflicted regard for the patient’s benefit and best interest.”
He said physicians’ professionalism stops doctors from punching out on a time clock in the middle of patient care, or from charging fees out of line from what other physicians charge for the same care.
“There are many outside entities that would like to relegate [physicians] to the role of technicians – that they can plug us into a particular spot to do a particular job the way they want it done,” Dr. Fleeger said. “It’s up to us to make sure that we maintain our professional values, the center of which is the protection of the patient-physician relationship.”
Dr. Fleeger also directed his fellow TMA members’ attention to navigating changes within the 166-year-old organization. As more women enter medical school and become Texas physicians, he wants TMA to boost engagement, representation and leadership among female physicians in organized medicine and the association. He also tasked TMA with finding better ways to serve physician members who are employed by other doctors and health care systems, equal to how the association supports solo and small-group practice physicians.
Dr. Fleeger also discussed serving as president during arguably TMA’s biggest upcoming change, the retirement of Louis J. Goodman, PhD, as EVP/CEO; and the Board of Trustees’ task of hiring a new staff leader. Dr. Goodman has served as TMA’s top executive for 22 years, and plans to step down after a replacement is named.
A board-certified colon and rectal surgeon, Dr. Fleeger is managing partner of his eight-member group practice in Austin.
In addition to caring for thousands of Austinites, Dr. Fleeger treats patients half a world away. He takes volunteer medical mission trips to Guatemala each year, for which St. David’s selected him to receive its Frist Humanitarian Award. In 2012, the Travis County Medical Society (TCMS) honored Dr. Fleeger with the Gold Headed Cane Award as Physician of the Year. The medical mission trips allow him to combine three passions in his life – travel, photography, and caring for people.
Caring for patients every day (which Dr. Fleeger intends to do even while leading TMA in the coming year) enables him to understand first-hand the challenges and wonders of today’s health-care environment. He seeks to try to remove barriers between physicians and the patients who need their care, including unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. Dr. Fleeger believes TMA’s greatest strength lies in advocating for physicians so they can focus more on their patients and less on filling out forms and other bureaucratic tasks. It is – and should be – all about the patient, he said, and the revered patient-physician relationship.
Dr. Fleeger has worked to protect that relationship throughout his 28 years of rising through the TMA ranks. He first served as the TMA Young Physician Section’s delegate to the American Medical Association (AMA). He also served as chair of the section’s governing council, and later chaired both the TMA Committee on Physician Distribution and Health Care Access, and the TMA Council on Practice Management Services. He also served on TMA’s Council on Health Care Quality and Ad Hoc Committee on Health Care Reform.
He eventually rose to a position on the TMA Board of Trustees governing body. He served as the Board’s secretary and vice-chair. He represents Texas as a delegate to the AMA House of Delegates and is active in TEXPAC, TMA’s political action committee. He also is a member of the TMA Foundation philanthropic organization’s Leadership Society. Dr. Fleeger also served as secretary-treasurer of the TMA PracticeEdge physician services organization board of managers.
A past president of both TCMS and the Texas Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, Dr. Fleeger also served on the board of the Central Texas Regional Blood and Tissue Center, and as chair of the TMF Health Quality Institute Board of Trustees. He also served as St. David’s Medical Center’s chief of staff and on its Board of Trustees.
Jamie, Dr. Fleeger’s wife of 34 years, works as a physician assistant in family medicine. Their daughter, Lauren Seesel, and her husband Jim, live in Chicago. Dr. Fleeger’s parents are Houston residents.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
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