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Hospitalists' Career Path: A Pinch Unexpected, and Lots of Quality Leadership


I believe there is no better field than hospital medicine to find your career path, and there’s no better organization than SHM to support you as you follow that path. My path is probably similar to most, a little unplanned and a little unexpected, but I am sure each member has their story. Hospital medicine made an early impact on me during an internship where I was exposed to physician role models with terrific leadership skills. They were blazing trails by challenging long-held beliefs about the care of hospitalized patients.


Brian Harte, MD, SFHM

The term “hospitalist” had not yet quite penetrated national consciousness, but Dr. Bob Wachter and Dr. Lee Goldman had already started implementing the model at the University of California, San Francisco, where I was privileged to be an intern during an exciting time. There, I learned directly from some of the individuals who would quickly become pioneers in hospital medicine, influencing a generation of physicians by putting definition and structure around the concept of a hospitalist.

During residency, I saw these hospitalists demonstrate key leadership attributes that distinguished from other physicians. They had an appreciation for the team, a collaborative approach, and an ability to understand the complexity of coordinating acute care. They led from the front, not from behind the lines. So it was no wonder that so many of my colleagues gravitated toward this new field.

After residency, my first job was at a community hospital in Marin, Calif., where a new hospitalist program had started just a year or two earlier. The same collaborative skills that created better patient care with nurses, pharmacists, and the medical staff were positively reinforced and recognized. I got married and had my first child, and my path took a turn east to the Cleveland Clinic. Now back in the academic world and after two more children, that path for me turned in highly unexpected ways—as a department chair, then as medical director for data and analytics, then briefly overseeing population health, and now as head of a hospital in the Cleveland Clinic system.

Stories like mine are not at all extraordinary. At HM16 in San Diego, I heard stories of hospitalists ascendant in their organizations, being given incredible responsibilities and a long rope. The day-to-day work we have done as hospitalists has been our training for all these roles. This daily practice demands a level of growth, development, and exposure that no other specialty requires. There is no better environment to learn about leadership, teaching, and complex systems than perhaps the most complex system of all—the hospital. In this environment, we have innumerable opportunities to find, pick, and create our own paths to improve our healthcare system at every level from the bedside to the top of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Hospital medicine puts so many components and challenges of healthcare in our daily practice: complex team problem-solving; relationships up, down, and across a hierarchy; IT; education; process improvement; ethics; medical staff politics. The successful hospitalist, by definition, has to be able to learn and attain mastery across a broad set of knowledge and skills. We have become naturals in a world of "matrixes management" because it is how we live our lives every day. This is why when our medical staffs and administration come looking for a project leader, a new department chair, a head of patient experience, a leader, or an educator, they come looking for us.

As SHM’s new president, I commit to SHM being the organization that is dedicated to helping you. It’s impossible to see around every corner, but starting in the coming year, I think SHM and hospitalists have to move forward in four key directions:

  1. Expand and engage SHM’s membership. Although we just reached our 15,000th member, there are 52,000 hospitalists, plus even more when you include advanced practice colleagues, whom we would like to become SHM members under our “big tent.” We want to draw in those hospitalists, show them how, whether it’s through our educational offerings, learning portal, or active involvement in projects and committees, we can engage them at every stage of their career—and ask them what else we can do to help them find their path and be prepared for it.
  2. We must continue pushing our members and projects to be focused on patient- and family-centered care. Every project that takes the extra steps of incorporating the thoughts and feelings of our patients and families will get a better result. I would like to see hospitalists everywhere take a strong position to remember that our patients and their families are our partners in their care; We need to lead on the patient experience and patient-centered care front. Two years ago, we launched the Patient Experience Committee to do just that, and it is an important research topic on the minds of the Journal of Hospital Medicine editors. After all, we are all people needing people.
  3. We have to move assertively to understand our role in an era of risk. While in many senses we have been managing risk either directly or indirectly for decades, the payment models of care (episodes, bundles, MIPS, ACOs) are evolving quickly, and we must stake out our place in this new risk-sharing world and identify our partners. Hospitalists need to have a clear message about how what we do mitigates risk and adds value. In the coming year, SHM will start to do that.
  4. In the coming years, we will need to clarify our position regarding specialty recognition, including our training programs. We already have many key components that we identify with as a specialty. While this is also something contentious and political, when we look at the divergence between what we have to do to be clinically effective (e.g., palliative medicine, ICU care, QI, leadership, etc.) and what our training programs provide for us, that gap appears to be increasing. SHM has stepped up with curriculum to fill these gaps and will continue to do so. However, we must question how best to train physicians for these roles and if the current model is sustainable and suitable.

I am privileged and honored to serve as your new president, and I ask each of you to look at yourselves and the opportunities that your practice provides you with to grow—personally and professionally—and make our system and specialty better. Look to SHM to help you, support you, and provide resources for you to walk your path. TH

Dr. Harte is a practicing hospitalist, president of the Society of Hospital Medicine, and president of Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, part of the Cleveland Clinic Health System. He is associate professor of medicine at the Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland.

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