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It’s Good to Be Country

From: The Hospitalist, January 2009

Longtime hospitalist extols the many benefits of working in a rural hospital

by Stephanie Cajigal

Think a big hospital is where it’s at? Not according to Randy Ferrance, DC, MD, a hospitalist at Riverside Tappahanock Hospital, a 67-bed facility in rural Tappahannock, Va. The community is home to 2,172 residents and located about an hour east of Richmond, just up river from the Chesapeake Bay. Dr. Ferrance, a former chiropractor who has been practicing as a hospitalist at Riverside since 2002, recently spoke with The Hospitalist about why he enjoys the rural setting.

How is Riverside Tappahanock different from other hospitalist groups you’ve worked at?

Answer: The thing I like about it is I get to wear a lot of different hats. We don’t have intensivists; we manage our own ventilators and do our own critical care. And we’re also limited by the number of specialists we have, so of course, anything that is too difficult for us to do we transfer out. I don’t manage consultants, which seems like what hospitalists at a lot of big hospitals do. I’m often wondering what those hospitalists are left doing. Here we have cardiologists available to us, and as far as other specialists go, we have one gastroenterologist and a part-time nephrologist. I like the fact that I’m actually treating and not just stepping back and watching others treat. I especially like the ICU. This way I get to do critical care, and I think do it fairly well.

What are the challenges at a rural hospital?

A: A number of people just assume that, since we are just a small hospital, we can’t be giving good care. They come through the doors and they immediately want us to transfer them to a bigger hospital.

Is there a need for more rural hospitalists?

A: There have been times in the past when we’ve had trouble getting people [recruits] to look at us just because of the location, although I think we’re in a great location. We’re not far from Richmond, not far from good things to do.

Is there a solution to the recruitment problem?

A: The bottom line is we need more primary care physicians. We’re pretty selective and we’ve managed to do well despite that.

How many patients, on average, do you see?

A: We average about five admissions a day. We tend to follow about eight patients at a time. We don’t really do shifts. We take call a quarter of the time, doing admissions for a 24-hour stretch, averaging seven or eight calls in a month. Then we round on our post call days, as well, and the days in between. On average, we take every third day call, with a week off each month. We work 90 hours a week—pretty awful hours. So this is clearly a drawback. There are only four of us here, so if one of us were taken ill, we’d either have to get a [temporary doctor] or pick up the slack.

What are the other drawbacks to a rural hospital?

A: Our denominators are so small that, if we miss aspirin on arrival for one patient, it can pull us from first to the fourth in quality ratings. Everything has to be perfect. We can’t make any omissions. I think it certainly adds to perception. People in small towns talk a lot, and what people talk about are things that did not go well. They don’t talk about things that did go well.

What advice do you have for those considering a position at a rural hospital?

A: You have to be willing to work more than you would at a larger hospital, but I think you get to do more, which is more rewarding from my point of view.

What can rural hospitalists teach other hospitalists?

A: We probably can teach workload management a bit better. I think we can also talk about quality referral patterns. The things we need to do to make sure our quality numbers are good are probably a lot more stringent because our capture needs to be better. TH


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