Since hospital medicine’s early days, hospitalist physicians have worked alongside physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). Some PAs and NPs have ascended to positions of leadership in their HM groups or health systems, in some cases even supervising the physicians.
The Hospitalist connected with six PA and NP leaders in hospital medicine to discuss their career paths as well as the nature and scope of their jobs. They described leadership as a complex, multidimensional concept, with often more of a collaborative model than a clear-cut supervisory relationship with clinicians. Most said they don’t try to be the “boss” of their group and have found ways to impact key decisions.
They also emphasized that PAs and NPs bring special skills and perspectives to team building. Many have supplemented frontline clinical experience with leadership training. And when it comes to decision making, their responsibilities can include hiring, scheduling, training, mentoring, information technology, quality improvement, and other essential functions of the group.
Edwin Lopez, MBA, PA-C
Facility medical director, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Enumclaw, Wash.
Workplace: St. Elizabeth is a 25-bed critical-access hospital serving a semi-rural bedroom community of 11,000 people an hour southeast of Seattle. It belongs to the nine-hospital CHI Franciscan Health system, and the HM group includes four physicians and four PAs providing 24-hour coverage. The physicians and PAs work in paired teams in the hospital and an 80-bed skilled nursing facility (SNF) across the street. Lopez heads St. Elizabeth’s HM group and is associate medical director of the SNF.
Background: Lopez graduated from the PA program at the University of Washington in 1982 and spent seven years as a PA with a cardiothoracic surgery practice in Tacoma. Then he established his own firm providing PA staffing services for six cardiac surgery programs in western Washington. In 1997, he co-founded an MD/PA hospitalist service covering three hospitals for a Seattle insurance company. That program grew into a larger group that was acquired by CHI Franciscan.
Lopez took time off to earn his MBA in health policy at the University of Washington and Harvard Kennedy School in Boston.
Eight years ago as part of an acquisition, CHI Franciscan asked Lopez to launch an HM program at St. Elizabeth. From the start, he developed the program as a collaborative model. The HM group now covers almost 90% of hospital admissions, manages the ICU, takes calls to admit patients from the ED, and rounds daily on patients in a small hospital that doesn’t have access to a lot of medical specialists.
St. Elizabeth’s has since flourished to become one of the health system’s top performers on quality metrics like HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores. However, Lopez admits readmission rates remain high. He noticed that a big part of the readmission problem was coming from the facility across the street, so he proposed the HM group start providing daily coverage to the SNF. In the group’s first year covering the SNF, the hospital’s readmission rate dropped to 5% from 35%.
Listen: Edwin Lopez, PA-C, discusses post-acute Care in the U.S. health system
Responsibilities: Lopez spends roughly half his time seeing patients, which he considers the most satisfying half. The other half is managing and setting clinical and administrative direction for the group.
“My responsibility is to ensure that there is appropriate physician and PA coverage 24-7 in both facilities,” he says, adding he also handles hiring and personnel issue. “We have an understanding here. I help guide, mentor, and direct the team, with the support of our regional medical director.”