Many physicians see being a hospitalist as an opportunity to focus on direct patient care. For Mary Ottolini, MD, it is a way to have it all. Every day, she cares for patients at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., teaches at Children’s and at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., serves on a variety of committees and in numerous organizations, and works as a department head.
Early Start, Full Day
“It’s just another typical, crazy day,” says Dr. Ottolini, division chief of the hospitalist division and director of pediatric medical student education at Children’s National Medical Center and professor of pediatrics at George Washington, as she walks briskly down the hall at 9 a.m. on her way to radiology rounds. Her day actually starts at about 7 a.m., when she sees overnight admissions and addresses any urgent problems that require her attention. By 9 a.m., her day is in full swing.
During radiology rounds she and her team, which consists of residents, interns, and third-year medical students, review films from the previous day with the radiologist. The group addresses issues such as what additional tests might be useful. Sometimes they try to determine whether a condition is the result of an illness or injury.
Leaving radiology, Dr. Ottolini and her team head to the ward for patient rounds. As they walk to the first room, they pass cheerful murals featuring cartoon characters and several paintings and drawings created by children. A third-year resident leads the rounds, filling the group in on each patient’s condition and progress. Dr. Ottolini conducts the physical exams and talks to family members when they are present. When she offers her thoughts and comments to the group, the students listen attentively and take notes as she talks.
At one point, the team has to send for a translator for a non-English speaking family. Dr. Ottolini explains that this is common. In fact, Children’s has translators readily available who speak several common languages, including Spanish, French, and Japanese. Additionally, they have access to individuals who speak just about any language that arises.
Despite the ready availability of translators, these family discussions can be challenging. “When we have the translator, we are trying to balance efficiency with effective family communication,” explains Dr. Ottolini. “The translator adds a time factor because everything has to be repeated, and then there’s a lag time when we are looking at each other and waiting for the translation. It works, but it adds a layer of complexity to the situation, especially when you are trying to teach trainees while addressing parental concerns.”
—Mary Ottolini, MD, division chief, Hospitalist Division, and director of pediatric medical student education, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Family communication is an important part of Dr. Ottolini’s daily activities. Because she doesn’t have a previous relationship with the patient or family, Dr. Ottolini faces the task of establishing rapport quickly—often in the midst of a crisis. “Especially when the child is seriously ill, it can be challenging to establish a level of trust,” she says. “For me, it’s a matter of trying to put myself in the parents’ shoes.”
Dr. Ottolini has also gained insights from being on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship. “I had an amazing relationship with a doctor who helped me tremendously, and I think of that,” she says. “Part of it is listening and trying to understand what is concerning the family the most. Sometimes, this is not what we think is the greatest concern. If we can get past what’s troubling them, it helps to move the care plan forward and establish a trusting relationship.