Giving Credit

Vivien Thomas was the grandson of a slave.  He wanted to go to medical school, but the depression made this financially impossible.  He got a job that was classified and paid as a janitor.  On his first day working at Vanderbilt, he assisted one of the doctors on an experimental surgery on a dog.  Within a short time period, he was doing surgeries on his own.

Thomas and the doctor, Alfred Blalock, teamed up to do surgery and developed a procedure that is credited with saving thousands of soldiers’ lives in World War II.  Later, they began doing surgery on the heart, which just wasn’t done at the time.

When Blalock was offered the Chief of Surgery position at Johns Hopkins, he asked that Thomas join him.  Blalock and Thomas were asked by another surgeon at Johns Hopkins (Helen Taussig) to see if they could surgically treat what was called Blue Baby Syndrome.  Thomas was tasked with recreating the heart defect on dogs and then surgically repairing them.  He was successful and Blalock became comfortable that the same procedure could be used to treat humans.

While Thomas was not allowed to work on humans, he still assisted Blalock.  During the first surgery on a human, Thomas needed to create the surgical instruments.  He stood on a stool and coached Blalock through the surgery.  The surgery quickly became well known, but Blalock and Johns Hopkins did not give Thomas credit.  Dr. Taussig, the other collaborator on the surgical innovation team, insisted that Thomas’ name be added to the procedure.

Thomas became so skillful at surgery that he became a trainer of students at Johns Hopkins.  He was never paid well and served as a bartender to earn extra income.  He was also denied credit for much of his accomplishments.

He had a lifetime dream of becoming a medical doctor, but this dream was never fulfilled.  Johns Hopkins did award him an honorary doctorate, but students were not allowed to call him doctor.  However, his name appears on one of the four colleges for incoming medical students.  The colleges are named for faculty who made major impacts in their careers.

Giving credit where credit is due is a trait of confident, generous leaders.  Unfortunately, this is not a universal trait.  For some reason, many leaders see giving credit as a zero-sum game.  If someone is given credit for an achievement, then they believe that it somehow reduces their own stature.

The reality is that giving credit where credit is due is an act that fosters loyalty towards a leader.  Giving credit also has a multiplier effect.  Giving credit encourages others to give credit.  A true leader gets as much fulfillment out of seeing others receive credit as he/she receives from getting credit.

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“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form.  Its rewards are inestimable.”  – Loretta Young (actress)

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