As I stared down the length of a limp, moderately deflated breakfast burrito, my thoughts meandered. I doubted about the ability of my little chylomicron-infused buddy to dust the cobwebs from a night in the Gaslamp Quarter that overemphasized wine and underemphasized sleep. I pondered the merit of showing up at 6:30 in the morning for this meeting.
I was shaken from my musings by a voice introducing himself as Bob Wachter. Clearly this apparition parading as one of the luminaries of the hospital medicine movement must be another manifestation of a night of overabundant revelry—and not my adviser for this SHM mentorship breakfast.
It turns out it was the real Dr. Wachter, and indeed he was there to provide an hour and a half of his undivided attention to mentor me as an early-career academic hospitalist. The year was 2003, the location San Diego, the event the sixth SHM Annual Meeting. The significance: This was my first SHM meeting.
Descending on San Diego five years later, I’ve had the chance to reflect on my growth as a hospitalist and the enzymatic role the society’s annual meeting has played in my development.
At the time I had been an academic hospitalist at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center for three years. I’d come to San Diego to learn more about this group that was—until a name change announced at this meeting—calling itself the NAIP, or the National Association of Inpatient Physicians. I also came to present, for the first time, a research abstract.
The annual meeting represents many things to many people. For some it is a time to expand their clinical horizons. Indeed, the clinical content is top-notch and ensures that attendees stay current. The meeting also offers opportunities to learn a new skill such as how to build a hospital medicine program, become a top-notch educator, or develop procedural skills.
Others look to the meeting to present their research data to their peers. Still others attend to get away from the grind of their daily job and bathe in the rejuvenating energy of the annual meeting. Some even look to the meeting location as a vehicle to visit distant family or explore a new or favorite city.
I came to my first annual meeting to sample many of these offerings. What I found was something unexpected and powerful—a professional and social network.
This brings me back to my encounter with Bob. I had seen him speak the day prior at the “Building and Improving Hospitalist Programs” pre-course. Bob gave a rousing and edifying discourse about documenting the value of your hospitalist group. Our early morning gathering was part of the SHM mentorship breakfast, where an early-career hospitalist is paired with a more senior hospitalist in his/her area of interest for career counseling.
Meeting the man who coined the word “hospitalist” was, needless to say, a little nerve-wracking. However, Bob was disarming, engaging, and truly interested in helping me advance. We talked about the development of a hospitalist group at the University of Colorado, a new group I was to direct in three short months. Subsequent to our meeting, Bob was instrumental in helping me develop our group’s business plan, connecting frequently via e-mail and phone.
Later that morning as I was setting up my abstract poster, I looked up to find one of my medical school colleagues, Thomas McIlriath, perusing the aisles of posters.
Thomas, who directs the Mercy Medical Group’s hospitalist program in Sacramento, and I had been good friends in medical school but found our friendship sidetracked by the grind of residency training at different institutions. I had not seen or heard from him in seven years. I later stumbled upon another medical school colleague and quite enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with such important figures from my past.
Over lunch I attended my first SHM research committee meeting. Not knowing what to expect, I found a group of early-career hospitalists interested in developing academic careers and a burgeoning SHM research infrastructure. I also met Andy Auerbach, MD, at the time a slightly younger but no less talented clinician-researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Over the years I’ve had the chance to get to know Andy much better and have found him an inspiration, a collaborator, and an enjoyable person to reconnect with whenever serendipity offers us the chance.
Toward the end of the first day’s sessions I attended an innovations workshop that featured a presentation of an online billing tool I thought might be the answer to a research question that I had. Unbeknownst to me the presenter was Eric Siegal, MD, who had graduated from my residency the year before I started and had been a passing acquaintance.
In the end, the presentation was not the answer to my question. But connecting with Eric, now a regional director at Cogent Healthcare, was not only pleasurable but has led to a burgeoning professional bond and personal friendship that has resulted in a couple of co-written publications, hikes through the mountains of Montana, and too numerous to count phone calls seeking professional advice.
That evening I presented my data to my peers at the abstract session and found the feedback to be interesting and enlightening. I also found it another opportunity to discover like-minded people with common interests.
One of them was Ken Epstein, MD, with IPC-The Hospitalist Company. It turned out that Ken had access to data that could answer the research question that had brought me to the innovations session earlier in the day.
Since this encounter, Ken and I have published the answer to our research question and formed a friendship and collaboration that continues to grow today.
While I didn’t recognize it at the time, that span of 24 hours in early April 2003 was arguably the most important and productive day of my working career. I reconnected with old friends, developed new professional acquaintances, and, most important, forged several new and lasting friendships.
As I ready myself for another annual meeting in San Diego I excitedly ponder the opportunities that await me—not least of which is another go in the Gaslamp Quarter! TH
Dr. Glasheen is associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he serves as director of the Hospital Medicine Program and the Hospitalist Training Program, and as associate program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program.