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Hospital Medicine Career Perfect Fit for Hands-On Hospitalist Sowmya Kanikkannan


Sowmya Kanikkannan, MD, SFHM, has medicine in her blood. Stories her physician mother told her when she was a child piqued her curiosity. That inquiring mindset led her to volunteer at a hospital, an experience that turned into college studies, which eventually led to a career in hospital medicine.

“It wasn’t until my second year of residency that I started hearing more about hospital medicine,” says Dr. Kanikkannan, one of the newer additions to Team Hospitalist, the volunteer editorial advisory board of The Hospitalist. “By then, I had started to think about what I wanted to do after graduation. The things that I liked about it were the fast pace of hospital work, the higher acuity of medicine that hospitalists practiced, and the collaborative nature of the field.”

The choice is working out just fine.

Last year, Dr. Kanikkannan was named hospitalist medical director for Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J. She also is a member of SHM’s national leadership committee and writes for SHM’s blog, “The Hospital Leader”.

Despite her leadership roles, Dr. Kanikkannan believes she must keep direct patient care in her schedule.

“Seeing patients is important to me, since I am a physician at heart,” she says. “As a leader, it is equally important to me to see patients; it keeps me grounded. Being hands on helps me better understand my program and make successful administrative decisions that can be sustained in the long run.”

Question: What do you dislike most about working as a hospitalist?

Answer: There are times when I see frequent fliers get readmitted to the hospital over and over again. Sometimes, this is difficult to deal with and can be frustrating for the hospitalist, because patients either don’t have the resources to take care of themselves when discharged or they don’t take their health seriously enough to make attempts to lead healthier lives. At times like these, I really wish that as hospitalists we could help these patients in some way that is sustainable long-term.

Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?

A: The best advice that I received was from family, and it was to believe in myself and to believe that I can achieve anything that I want to if I put my mind to it and worked hard for it. My high school math teacher also told me that I shouldn’t change because I was so awesome. But then, who wouldn’t like that advice?

I have seen the field grow from doctors who practice in the hospital to doctors who are part of the hospital. This is really amazing. I am glad to see that hospitalists are more involved in hospital systems and processes in addition to providing patient care. —Dr. Kanikkannan

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in hospital medicine in your career?

A: The biggest change would have to be the exponential growth and expansion—not just in the number of hospitalist programs but [also in] the growth of our scope of practice. I have seen the field grow from doctors who practice in the hospital to doctors who are part of the hospital. This is really amazing. I am glad to see that hospitalists are more involved in hospital systems and processes in addition to providing patient care.

Q: What’s the biggest change you would like to see?

A: The biggest change that I would like to see is to solidify hospital medicine as a career and recruit career-hospitalists into our field. As with any new and upcoming field, this is a process that takes some time. I already am starting to see this trend, as residents are entering hospitalist tracks and medical students are beginning to understand the existence of hospital medicine. I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time.

Q: What aspect of patient care is most rewarding?

A: My favorite part is seeing my patients recover quickly. I also enjoy interacting and forming good relationships with my patients and their families, albeit during a short hospital visit. When people are sick, you see them at their most vulnerable. To know that they trust your care during that time is very humbling. Last week, the wife of a patient suddenly hugged me and thanked me for taking care of her husband. It was totally unexpected, but it was also a great feeling that I helped someone get better.

Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?

A: One of my biggest professional challenges is learning how to get diverse and often different groups of medical professionals to come together and collaborate on system changes in the hospital. No matter how many times you do it, each experience is different and presents its own unique challenge.

Q: When you aren’t working, what is important to you?

A: I love spending time with my family and friends. Since I am usually busy during my weeks on service, I catch up with everyone during my weeks off. My husband and I like exploring Philadelphia when we can. We’ve been enjoying the amazing new vegetarian restaurants that have opened in Philly over the last year.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I see myself in hospital medicine leadership, since being a leader has given me the opportunity to impact positive change for my hospital, my patients, and the hospitalists in my group.

Q: If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be doing right now?

A: This is a question that I was asked during my medical school interview. I believe that I didn’t have an answer at that time; however, if I really had to pick, I would want to be an artist and a performer in Broadway musicals. I love all forms of dance, especially contemporary dancing, salsa, and bharathnatyam (a classical south Indian dance). I also enjoy singing, although my skills, I’m afraid, have deteriorated due to disuse.

Q: What impact do you feel devices like Apple and Android products have had on your job—and on medicine in a broader sense?

A: I think that the new mobile technology has had a significant and positive impact on healthcare as a whole. The most beneficial is the ease of access to information, both related to patient care and medical resources. The next wave will be the integration of these devices into the actual delivery of patient care.

Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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