Most primary care physicians will tell you it’s getting harder to maintain a traditional medical practice with a foot in both the outpatient and inpatient realms. Caseload demands, inadequate reimbursement, and other professional and medical pressures are forcing primary care physicians to choose one setting or the other.
For those interested in exploring the field of hospital medicine, a unique, three-day, hands-on training course at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center offered an opportunity to address some of the gaps in their inpatient clinical knowledge and skills, which either were not sufficiently covered in residency training or have atrophied from lack of practice.
The hospitalist “mini-college” allowed working hospitalists and prospective hospitalists to practice short neurological exams on real patients, use ultrasound to guide needle placements, interpret radiologic evidence, engage in diagnostic reasoning exercises, and even conduct online medical information searches, all under the watchful eyes of UCSF faculty. The course was limited to 27 participants to maximize small group interactions. It emphasized clinical practice needs identified in surveys of hospitalists and assessments by the faculty, led by Robert M. Wachter, MD, professor and chief of the division of hospital medicine at UCSF, a former SHM president, and author of the blog “Wachter’s World” (www.wachtersworld.com).
Participants in this intensive course were a mix of working hospitalists in stable positions seeking to enhance their clinical practice, and physicians in various stages of transition—in or out of hospitalist positions. More than half of the participants are in their first hospitalist job and have worked in the field for less than two years, according to attendee surveys. Two-thirds say they are pretty satisfied and 24% say they are very satisfied with their work, according to the survey. Most say they love the clinical aspects best, but others express frustrations with caseload pressures and ownership changes at their practices.
“For me, being a doctor always meant being a primary care doctor, and I find great joy working in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. But primary care is becoming a losing proposition,” says Ronald Distajo, MD, who has maintained a primary clinic practice for Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., for the past three years—all the while moonlighting as a hospitalist for the health system.
With student loans, long hours, and relatively low pay in the outpatient setting, Dr. Distajo plans to find full-time work as a hospitalist. At the mini-college, he received a phone call informing him the outpatient clinic he practices in will close by the end of the year. The UCSF course seemed like a timely opportunity to bolster his inpatient management skills in areas he believes he could benefit from a refresher. “They’ve done a good job of picking all of them,” Dr. Distajo says.
Another mini-college participant in transition, Madeleine Martindale, MD, was looking to hear what “hospitalists in other places are doing, to confirm and validate my own experience.” Dr. Martindale recently left a hospitalist position in Anchorage, Alaska, in part because of high caseloads. “A lot of the topics presented here will help me. I also wanted to learn more about the range of responsibilities expected in hospital medicine.”
With few work settings for hospitalists in Alaska, Dr. Martindale is planning to become a traveling hospitalist in the lower 48 states next year. She is hoping to devote part of the year to practicing medicine in a high-altitude clinic, as she prepares to staff a clinic in Nepal operated by the Himalayan Rescue Association. She also plans to serve as the support physician—stationed mainly at base camp—for a two-month Mount Everest climb. “There are a lot of hospitalist services and places to practice, if I’m willing to leave Alaska,” she says. “I feel inspired to hear hospitalists who love their jobs and are interested in quality of care and safety.”