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.