Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow.— Louis L’Amour
Professional advancement means different things to different people. For some, it is important to be the leader of their medical group—whether it is a hospital group or a private practice. For others, it means being associate professor or department chair. And, for a few, it will mean becoming the chief executive officer of a hospital or healthcare company. Much of this comes down to trying to make a difference to the patients and other people around us, as well as trying to bring about improvements in healthcare.
To many physicians, trying to make a difference has been limited to making sure we are doing a good job—diagnostically, pharmacologically, and emotionally—for our individual patients. However, as we become adept at serving the individual patient, we often feel a need to take on more challenges. Medical staff leadership is one way to affect the care of many by directing the actions of the group.
Healthcare is a large component of our country’s economy, and this is not likely to change. In addition, it is an area with many challenges: the aging population, the uninsured population, new pharmaceutical developments, and medical device discoveries. There will be a continued demand for individuals who can understand this very complex intersection of business and medicine.
Fill in the Gaps and Offer Your Help
How many times have we heard our colleagues complain that “the problems never change and nothing gets done around here”? No doubt, change is tough, but taking a role in your department or at your hospital is a way to start. Many hospitalists are filling in the leadership gaps as other specialists move to outpatient centers or into the office. Posts that have traditionally been held by cardiology or urology are changing.
Give some thought to where you might help out. A commitment to something as simple as the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee can lead to changes for all the patients as well as get you started on your new career path. Every chief of staff and vice president of medical affairs is looking for volunteers who are interested in projects and can follow through. This applies to department chairmen as well. Given the commitment we all have to our patients and our lives, the offer of help for even just one project is a breath of fresh air to those who have the responsibility for the group or department. Depending on your area of interest—patient safety, quality improvement, patient or medical student education, or process improvement—a project can be created that furthers your institution and addresses your interests.
Worried that there is no room for you at the table? Think again. If your department chair or chief of staff is not asking for help, it may be that their requests have fallen on deaf ears for so long that they have stopped asking. If you have identified a project that interests you, it may interest others also. Ask if there is a way that you can work with others on an existing project. Alternatively, ask if there is a project that needs doing that has no one to do it. Many projects need a political and medical champion; they would welcome your offer to help. Volunteer and be prepared to take on a project that is not your favorite but that may give you experience for other projects. Your initiative will certainly get the attention of the chairperson or others because you are solving a problem for them.