William Ford, MD, FHM, was just three years removed from residency when he assumed his first HM leadership role. His qualifications were impressive, but because he was just in his early 30s, his soon-to-be bosses needed some convincing that he was right for the job.
But Dr. Ford—now medical director at Cogent Healthcare and director of the HM program at Temple University in Philadelphia—quickly proved that ability, attitude, and work ethic mean as much as, if not more than, a lengthy résumé. “I don’t think you need a title to lead or a position to lead,” Dr. Ford says. “You need the will to lead.”
Q: You spent a little more than a year in private practice before you became a hospitalist. What motivated you to make the switch?
A: I really enjoy the mix of responsibilities. There’s a lot more to HM than just treating the patient. You’re actually treating the hospital. And, ultimately, it’s more fast-paced. I like the ability to be on the cutting edge of medicine, and just being in a hospital keeps you on your toes from a medical perspective.
Q: Your first two clinical sites—Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., and Union Hospital in Elkton, Md.—are more suburban settings. What made Temple the right fit?
A: I trained at Drexel University (also in Philadelphia), and I wanted to get back to the urban setting. I find that environment to be very challenging.
Q: How so?
A: The biggest challenge is the socioeconomic problems. Eighty percent of our patients are on Medicare or Medicaid. … In a nutshell, the challenge comes down to basic access to care.
Q: How frustrating is that for you?
A: It’s very frustrating, and it angers me. If I write a prescription for a patient, there’s a good chance the person won’t take it. If I tell them they need follow-up treatment, there’s a good chance they won’t get it. It’s not that they don’t want to. Maybe they can’t afford the co-pay, or maybe, if they haven’t been monitored by a primary-care physician (PCP), they can’t get an appointment for three months. I know we, as a group, can care for patients much better if they would follow up with our instructions. But because of the hoops they have to go through, whether for economic reasons or access reasons, many of them are coming back to the ED.
Q: What keeps you going in spite of those challenges?
A: The patients. They are a very grateful population. They know they are underserved, and they are appreciative of the care.
Q: Temple partnered with Cogent Healthcare in 2006 to manage its hospitalist program. Were you excited about being able to put your stamp on a program and really help it develop?
A: That was enormously appealing. If you’re a true leader, you’re never satisfied with the way your boss is running the program. If you really have the qualities to lead a group, you always think you can do better. … I was intrigued by the opportunity to start a group in a major teaching center that, for the first time, was outsourcing its hospitalist program and trying to solidify its teaching mission.
Q: How quickly has the program grown?
A: We’ve grown from four physicians to 27, and we treat about 15,000 inpatients annually.