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South sees success but isn’t satisfied after year at MSMA helm

Dwalia S. South, M.D., recently completed a year as president of the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA). The gregarious family practitioner from Ripley had a full year and now refers to herself as a “happy has been” although she will remain active in the profession she loves.

“Being made president is quite an honor, but it is not a figurehead position,” she said. “If you do it right, you can certainly work your can off during the year. I have this sense, I suppose, that what I did was somehow not enough, but you could let that drive you crazy.”

South spoke to 17 different component societies within the state giving different talks at each. She also attended quarterly board meetings, the statewide annual session and American Medical Association trips to Hawaii, Chicago and Washington, D.C., plus trips to Jackson during the legislative session to be the face and voice of Mississippi physicians.

Magnolia family practitioner, Luke Lampton, M.D., has worked with South in MSMA and several other professional organizations. He describes her as a beautiful person and good friend.

“She was a great president of MSMA. She not only speaks her mind, but always tries to do the right thing,” he said. “She focuses on patient care and is a good role model. I predict we will hear much more from her and about her.”

He says many people may not know of her writing accomplishments. South has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association with a circulation of 400,000.

“Dwalia is probably the best physician-writer in the state, hands down,” Lampton said. “She is a combination of William Faulkner and Lewis Grizzard. She captures the language of her patients and other physicians, bringing practice in rural areas to life.”

Now returning to her busy practice and family life, South took the time to reflect on her year as MSMA president and answer a few questions for Mississippi Business Journal readers.

Mississippi Business Journal: How do you feel about ending your year as president?

Dwalia South: I am bitter-sweetly relieved, if that makes any sense. During the year prior to taking office, there are very few responsibilities. This lulls you into a sense of complacency about the coming year — you almost feel like Dick Cheney sitting up at the head table with your sole job consisting of alternately appearing seriously concerned (or perhaps just dyspeptic) and chuckling at the appropriate moments.

Then when you are inaugurated as president, all hell breaks loose. There is literally not a day that you are not called upon to do something related to MSMA, and all this is in addition to your day job.

MBJ: What type of involvement will you have in the organization now?

DS: I’m not 100% certain. Because of the intensity of the presidential year, some immediate past presidents are content to just go out to pasture. I have heard a few of them say they had “withdrawals” and felt a great letdown when they were no longer the lead dog.

One of the biggest responsibilities of immediate past president is to chair the nominating committee that chooses folks to run for the various offices within MSMA. This will be an important job, finding the right leaders for our organization’s future. I will do this and try to finish some of the things we started. We don’t want to let anything worthwhile fizzle out, so I guess I will be keeping some fires lit.

MBJ: What do you consider the highlights of your presidency?

DS: There were things which came to fruition legislatively, such as the overhauling of the Mississippi State Department of Health with new leadership and a new focus, more money for the University Medical Center and the Trauma System and more health and physical education mandates for our public schools.

There were other battles we are still fighting. As far as a highlight, I would have to say the opportunity to meet, work with and become friends with so many talented and dedicated people in this state. Mississippi physicians and their spouses are quite simply awe-inspiring folks. So many of them are truly unsung heroes toiling every day to make our society a better place to live and to help our patients have healthier lives. These doctor/spouse teams have so much grace and class, it puts a lump in my throat just to think about them. Making these connections and forming lifelong friendships is the finest part of being MSMA president.

MBJ: Is there anything you wish you could have done that you didn’t?

DS: Wow, you don’t have that much paper! We didn’t get the tobacco tax we wanted, but we will never give in on this issue. We didn’t get any health insurance reform yet, but we’ll keep hammering away at that, too.

The big economic downturn and the oil price fracas have caused the issue of healthcare reform to slide somewhere into the backseat of our big old national SUV. But brother, what an elephant is sitting in our back seat. That issue won’t stay there long. We have the smarts and the ability to make these needed changes, but do we have the will to make them?

Just as we are being forced into a major shift in the way we deal with energy and future fuel sources for America, changes in healthcare delivery will fundamentally face revamping, as well. I want doctors to stay involved, to educate them about this and be bold enough to come to the table and speak not only for our livelihoods, but for our patients. We can’t afford to sit back and simply let the winds of money and politics rule healthcare in America.

MBJ: How did you manage the duties of the position with the responsibilities of your practice?

DS: It helps to be at peace with having a wee bit of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with an added twinge of obsessive compulsive personality, and to have long ago learned as a working mother that multi-tasking is a great survival tool. And, I prayed a lot.

MBJ: Do you have future plans you would like to share?

DS: I got a fortune cookie last week that said “it is time for you to spend more time with your family.” I think that would probably be the best bet for me. I have an 18-month-old grandbaby that I don’t see enough. We have a large family farm that needs attention. My house looks like a war zone right now and that bugs me.

Also, I need to work on my own health by exercising more and losing some weight before I become a statistic. We doctors all too often put our own health on the backburner. I know I am guilty of it.

MBJ: What kind of practice do you have?

DS: I am an employed physician doing a heavily geriatric outpatient family practice. We have a high rate of indigent patients in my practice because we provide a sliding-fee rate for visits and help people secure needed medicines. I see about 30 patients a day in the clinic where I am the only physician and feel too rushed most of the time.

I really miss the camaraderie of working closely with other physicians. That is one reason my work with others through MSMA is such a joy.

Some days I feel like a counseling psychiatrist, other days a drug pusher and still others I feel like a glorified social worker — or some combination of the above. I truly miss the full-service family medicine practice that I trained for and did for so many years. I really miss delivering babies and first-assisting in surgery. The malpractice crisis in Mississippi killed that for most family doctors.

I hope I don’t sound depressed. I am very hopeful for positive changes in Mississippi medicine and in my daily practice. My sweet patients are what make the job worth doing.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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