Ed note: This article is the second in a series of interviews with members of Team Hospitalist: 12 hospital medicine experts who are serving a two-year term as special editorial consultants to our magazine.
Ever consider working as an academic hospitalist? Here to give you the scoop on what it’s like is “Team Hospitalist” member R. Neal Axon, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston.
Dr. Axon completed his residency at Duke University Medical Center and received his medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine in 2000.
Why is it important to conduct research in hospital medicine?
We haven’t perfected medicine just yet, and until we do we have to work to make it better. Even though hospital medicine research is different from clinical medicine, we need to have people who are working to make the systems of care better.
What attracted you to academic medicine?
I love teaching residents and medical students, and I missed doing it when I entered in private practice. I just completed my master’s at MUSC in clinical research. My department was very supportive and even paid my tuition.
Is it difficult to balance research work with shift work?
It’s definitely a challenge. Fortunately for me, my group does not have shift work in the traditional sense. We do have a night shift, but it’s something we do on an infrequent basis. It would be extremely difficult to do in a seven-on, seven-off schedule that most hospitalists have.
What type of research are you working on?
I’m currently doing some work with hypertension. One of the projects is doing survey work where we access the attitudes of providers (doctors and house staff) on what to do with patients who have hypertension. My observation has been that, in many cases, when patients are admitted to a hospital, they also have high blood pressure that may equate with hypertension in the outpatient setting. It’s not clear when that should be addressed--or how. This survey would help us understand that.
What do you like about what you do?
I worry more about what the department chief thinks than what the CEO of the hospital thinks. At community and non-teaching hospitals, the focus is much more on the bottom line.
So is it impossible to do research if you work at a non-teaching hospital?
I think it’s likely to be more difficult--in that setting--to be a pure clinical researcher, but I do think there are opportunities out there for every day hospitalists to participate in research. This is one of the things I’m currently working on as a member of the SHM Research Committee. One deliverable we’re excited about is the fact that there will be sessions at the  annual meeting in Chicago that will specifically address how hospitalists can do research.
Another thing I hope can evolve is practice-based research networks, which exist in the primary care setting, but not so much in hospital medicine. These networks include groups of community doctors who band together to do clinical research projects. Central leadership helps the members of the group come up with research questions. This is something I’m working on in my state to develop, but this type of setup does exist in other areas.
What advice do you have for hospitalists who are interested in research?
The most important piece of advice is to find a good mentor.
The second thing is that most medical schools have master’s degree programs that teach you the skills that will get you started in clinical research. I went to medical school, but didn’t learn anything about biostatistics or trial design. TH