“Hospitalists must be able to exhibit clinical competence in the areas of patient safety, quality, and clinical care transitions,” says Jeff Wiese, MD, FACP, FHM, associate dean of Graduate Medical Education and professor of medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, SHM president-elect, and chair of the ABIM Hospital Medicine Maintenance of Certification Question Writing Committee. “Everything is driving at those issues. Individuals who go through the four parts of this certification will be able to say to their patients, with confidence, that one, they are a competent internist knowledgeable in hospital-based care, and two, they are an expert in patient safety, quality, and transitions of care.”
ABIM, for its part, expects to learn from this “new paradigm,” says Eric Holmbloe, MD, ABIM’s senior vice president and chief medical officer.
“The major change is the ability to implement the concept of a focused practice. It’s the first time, and it does recognize that the world has changed,” Dr. Holmbloe says, noting his group is “working feverishly” to complete the examination and build the online infrastructure needed for testing. “For those individuals whose [certificates] expire in 2010 or 2011, this is a viable pathway for recertification.”
Ask any long-in-the-tooth hospitalist what the RFP in HM means to them, and more often than not the answer centers on professional self-regulation and career validation. Few will argue the specialty has, at times, suffered from an identity crisis. Sans fellowships, specialized training, or a particular organ to hang their hat on, HM physicians have labored to carve their niche and gain a seat at the specialist’s table.
The RFP in HM, many hospitalists envision, solves a number of those acceptance-related issues (see “Certified Special,” p. 53). Most importantly, it identifies physicians who have chosen to make HM their career.
“Hospitalists have always struggled, especially in academic settings,” says Scott Flanders, MD, FHM, SHM president, associate professor and director of the hospitalist program at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. “I think this is a major, major moment for the field. It validates the field, and the belief that HM is a positive [for medicine].”
The new designation likely has greater meaning to older HM physicians, those who remember the early days of society formation (i.e., the National Association of Inpatient Physicians) and annual meeting attendance in the hundreds, not thousands.
“With the older docs, validation is particularly meaningful,” says Dr. Wachter, who, along with Lee Goldman, MD, first coined the term “hospitalist” in a 1996 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.1 “Paradoxically, most of the older physicians don’t have to take this test.”
That might be true, but only a small percentage of the 30,000-plus hospitalists in the U.S. are grandfathered into time-unlimited IM certificates. ABIM began time-limited certificates in 1990. The average hospitalist is 40, according to SHM’s “2007-2008 Bi-Annual Survey on the State of the Hospital Medicine Movement.”
John Nelson, MD, doesn’t have to recertify, but the co-founder of SHM is planning to be among the first to take the test. “It’s the first way hospitalists will be able to show their competence,” says Dr. Nelson, FACP, FHM, past president of SHM, and a principal in the national practice management firm Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. A regular contributor to The Hospitalist, Dr. Nelson says the RFP in HM “will help people take our field more seriously.”
Inclusive of IM
The RFP in HM pathway is not a way to distance hospitalists from their internal medicine (IM) training and certification. Nearly 85% of hospitalists are IM-trained, according to SHM’s 2007-2008 bi-annual survey, and clinical competence as an internist will be a requisite for recertification through the new ABIM test.