Kevin Conrad, MD, MBA, could always picture being a doctor, given that he enjoyed the sciences and wanted a job where he could work with people. He has more trouble figuring out how people don’t enjoy the detective work that comes with medicine.
Explore this issue:October 2016
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“I have a hard time imagining what people do besides people in the sciences,” he says. “In sciences, you deal with facts, you deal with numbers, you deal with data, and you put it together and you come to conclusions. And to me, that seemed like a career pathway as opposed to, say, a field like law or writing or whatnot. I could never wrap my head around what they actually do in a given day.”
Dr. Conrad’s passion for the sciences hasn’t waned yet. He serves as the medical director of community affairs and healthy policy at Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans, where he focuses on systems improvement. He published his first book this year, Absolute Hospital Medicine Review: An Intensive Question and Answer Guide, and is working on his second tome.
Question: What led you to a more hands-on medical field as opposed to being a basic or translational scientist?
Answer: I had some early exposure to lab work in high school and college and saw what they did and saw how they were sort of confined to labs for long periods of time and said, “No, I think that I would rather be kind of out there, combining science as well as interacting with people in the field.”
Q: When you started residency, was it clear to you that hospital medicine was where you wanted to go, or were you looking at a few different options?
A: Hospital medicine combined my interests in internal medicine, which is sort of a broad overview of all aspects of medicine and healthcare as well as being a little bit more intensive, a little bit more action-oriented. The patients tend to be a little bit more ill, require a little bit more acute attention, and that appealed to me as opposed to my training in internal medicine.
Q: What about the intensity of hospital medicine appeals to you?
A: As opposed to sitting down with a patient in an office setting, I think, in hospital medicine, I like the idea that you’re called from one semi-emergency to another and that you have to think quickly on your feet and move on to the new task. And the new tasks come in rapid sequence: You have one problem that you fix and then you’re called to do another one, and each and every day, it will tend to be sort of a different set of problems.
Q: What was the motivation to write the book and now working on the second?
A: I wanted to share my experience, and I felt I was in a position where I could not only share my personal practice experience as well as sort of collate the other material that has been written and published in hospital medicine. I also think there is a need right now to continue to define what hospital medicine is and show what we’re experts at as well as show our value to the system. We have an ambiguous practice, and people still aren’t quite sure what we do and what we’re expert at. So I think it’s our task to showcase this is what we do well, this is what we do better than other people, and this is our value to the system.
Q: So what is hospitalists’ value, and what are they experts in?
A: We’re experts at systems, hospital systems. … We understand better than anyone what goes on in the hospital, the physicians’ practice, the nursing practice, the administrative practice. … I mean, we’re there. We’re on the floors. No one has a better insight into the function of the hospital than the hospitalists. I think the other unique role we have is we see trends that other specialties don’t. We don’t really own our patients. Our patients come and go, but we tend to have a unique view of the practice of medicine that we see trends maybe before other specialists. … We see some of the failures of other systems.
Q: What is your least favorite part of being a hospitalist?
A: The clerical work. I think I probably speak for most people in that the clerical work is needed. It has become an increasing part of our practice in that now we spend a great deal of our time obviously in front of computers as opposed to at the bedside. The electronic medical record, which is good, which has served us well, becomes a greater and bigger part of our day, and so we find that it is too much a part of my day. I’m not saying it’s not needed because I think it has improved the quality of care we deliver, but it’s not something that you imagine that you should be doing as a physician. You are spending most of your day in front of a computer as opposed to most of the day with patients.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?
A: It has changed over my career. I think it probably started out in education. I enjoyed teaching medical students and residents, and certainly, that’s still a part of it, but then I think it has evolved into a little bit more of an academic interest. I just published my first book this past year and am working on my second book, and that has become sort of my bigger focus now. TH
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.