Hospitalist Joins C-Suite Elite

Pediatric hospitalist Jeff Sperring, MD, didn’t set out to be a hospital administrator. But earlier this month he became the president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis.

Dr. Sperring’s path to the C-suite started in 2002, when he helped launch Riley’s pediatric HM program following four years in community practice. The program eventually grew to a team of 22 physicians at four hospital sites. He was promoted to Riley’s associate chief medical officer (CMO) in 2007, and in 2009 became the hospital’s CMO.

"Being a hospitalist was critical to that progression," Dr. Sperring says. "You understand what needs to be changed. More than anything else it’s just being available, willing, and able to help."

Dr. Sperring spearheaded a quality project to address the hospital’s average length of stay (LOS), which was excessive by national benchmarks. The project helped reduce Riley’s LOS by two full days.

He also helped develop a health-system-wide call center for patient referrals from physicians across the state. "Leading a project leads to additional roles, and that leads to this," he says.

Other keys to his advancement: drawing upon mentors and coaches, both within and outside of his health system; relying on his team in the HM department; and building effective partnerships with community physicians, he says. He has not pursued a formal business degree, focusing instead on leadership development training opportunities, including the multi-professional Hoosier Fellows Program at Indiana University. He plans to continue working as hospitalist at Riley, "a week here and there" when he can squeeze it into his expanded administrative responsibilities.

SHM President Joseph Ming Wah Li, MD, MBA, SFHM, says he is not aware of other examples of working hospitalists rising to the top of their hospital’s organizational charts. "But I would expect we’d see more and more hospitalists becoming hospital CEOs—both pediatric and adult," he says.

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