Going to medical school at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico, could have been too much for Benjamin Frizner, MD, FHM.
Medicine is its own new language, as any first-year can tell you. Throw in learning Spanish? And a new culture? One could be forgiven for not excelling.
Dr. Frizner isn’t one of those people.
“The experience changed my life,” he says. “After I survived the first year, I knew I loved medicine.”
After medical school, Dr. Frizner had to complete a Fifth Pathway program, which formerly allowed students who completed four years at a foreign medical school to finish supervised clinical work at a U.S. medical school and become eligible as a U.S. resident.
He learned of hospital medicine during his residency at York Hospital in York, Pa., and, despite others suggesting hospital medicine was “something to do before you really figure out your career,” he enjoyed both working within the hospital walls and having a schedule that allowed 15 shifts a month and commensurate time off.
But as with his shift from undergraduate school in suburban Maryland to medical school in Mexico, Dr. Frizner likes a new challenge. So after a four-year stint as director of the hospitalist program at Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, he took a job in August 2015 as director of the Ventilator Unit at FutureCare Irvington, a post-acute-care center in Baltimore staffed by CEP America.
“Post-acute care has become a new passion and chapter in my career,” he says, adding, “Skilled nursing facilities are extensions of the acute-care hospital and are just as challenging and fulfilling as hospitalist work.”
It’s a perspective Dr. Frizner will bring as one of eight new members of Team Hospitalist, The Hospitalist’s volunteer editorial advisory board.
Question: Why did you choose a career in medicine?
Answer: I enjoyed math and biology in college. I started out thinking I would be an engineer but fell in love with anatomy. I like solving problems and working with people. Internal medicine/hospital medicine is a perfect match, working to solve a patient’s diagnosis and helping families make difficult decisions about placement and palliative care.
Q: What do you like most about working as a hospitalist?
A: Interacting with all the different specialties, social work, case management, residents, ED docs. I really enjoy the camaraderie.
Q: What do you dislike most?
A: Hospital groups contribute immensely to patient flow, care, quality, process improvement, throughput, but hospitals always advertise the new specialist and never the excellent hospitalist group.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: No matter what, do what is best for the patient. Everything else will take care of itself.
Q: What’s the worst advice you ever received?
A: Don’t worry about the contract; you don’t need to really look it over.
Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in HM in your career?
A: The pace of medicine continues to speed up. Residents have to hit the ground running with baseline case-management knowledge.
Q: What’s the biggest change you would like to see in HM?
A: I would like to see more hospitalists ascend into senior leadership in hospitals and healthcare systems.
Q: Why should group leaders continue to see patients?
A: It is important to maintain trust and respect with docs you are leading and managing. When I was a hospitalist director, I made sure I worked nights and weekends so I could understand the workload during those shifts and my team felt I was not just dumping on them.
Q: As a hospitalist, seeing most of your patients for the very first time, what aspect of patient care is most challenging?
A: Establishing trust with the patient and their family. But it has become second nature to me at this point. The secret is to introduce yourself, tell the patient and family you will take care of them in the hospital, communicate with their outpatient physician and that you are part of a 24-7 team of docs there to take care of the patient.
Q: What aspect of patient care is most rewarding?
A: Helping families navigate end-of-life decisions. It is the most stressful time in a family’s life, and I think it is the most rewarding and honorable part of practicing medicine.
Q: Are you on teaching service? If so, what aspect of teaching in the 21st century is most difficult? And what is most enjoyable?
A: I lead teaching rounds a few months a year when I was a hospitalist director, and I think the most difficult part is getting the residents to understand the workload will be a lot tougher when they get out into the real world. During their third year, residents need to practice efficiency and gauge their work ethic—not the kind of work ethic needed to pass the boards but the kind needed to stay in the ED and help your teammate out until the admissions are caught up or round on a few extra patients when there is a surge in the census.
Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?
A: [Getting others to] stop underestimating my skills and experience as a hospitalist and physician leader. I will complete an MBA through ACPE UMass this December. Learning basic accounting, business law, and finance has helped round out blind spots and build my confidence.
Q: What is your biggest professional reward?
A: Completing quality improvement projects such as increasing DVT prophylaxis, reducing CAUTI, and decreasing throughput times, which all help make the hospital course safer and efficient for the patient.
Q: What SHM event made the most lasting impression on you?
A: Seven years ago, I attended the Level I leadership academy at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas. The meeting opened my eyes to the world of leadership, management, and healthcare economics, which sparked my drive to eventually become a hospitalist director.
Q: What’s the best book you’ve read recently? Why?
A: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. As a foreign medical graduate, I was told there would be limits to what I could achieve in my career. Mr. Gladwell’s book is filled with stories of people who overcame difficult situations and went on to rise to the top of their fields.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.