Julia S. Wright, MD, spent 10 years in traditional practice before joining the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. Now a clinical associate professor and section head of hospital medicine, the title has changed and the professional demands have intensified. The mission, however, remains the same.
Every decision she’s made in her career—whether it be medical, managerial, financial, or even her seemingly curious choice of college majors—has been guided by one basic question: What will this mean for the quality of patient care? “It may sound cliché, but that’s always the bottom line,” Dr. Wright says. “It’s why I do what I do.”
You spent 10 years in traditional practice before becoming a hospitalist. How did that prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Answer: That experience is a tremendous asset. I made the switch to inpatient medicine because that was the arena I enjoyed the most. But having had experience in the outpatient setting gives me a better understanding of the continuum of care, and my clinical skills have been honed by that experience. I also have an understanding of the strengths of the primary care physicians (PCP), as well as the breadth of the problems they are able to take on.
How does that help you?
A: It really helps in the patient transition, especially on the return side, when patients go back to their PCP after hospitalization. Having an understanding of what resources are available to PCPs helps to determine an appropriate time to discharge a patient. Someone without that experience may have a tendency to think every loose end has to be tied up, or they may make changes that wind up making things more difficult for PCP. But if you have an understanding of a PCP’s capabilities, maybe the patient can be discharged a little earlier.
The University of Wisconsin’s hospitalist program started in 2005. You were named director in 2006. How exciting is it to guide a new program and help it develop?
A: It’s been a tremendous experience. When I joined, we had six hospitalists. Now we have 19. But it was strategic growth; it wasn’t haphazard.
What do you mean by strategic growth?
A: We didn’t simply say, ‘We need more people.’ Every time we brought somebody on, we really made sure it was going to be someone who would add value to the program and be beneficial to the hospital. We were worried, as we got bigger, that it’d be hard to keep the same cohesiveness and that same espirit de corps. During the interviews and the search process, we’re not just asking, ‘Are they qualified?’ We’re asking, ‘Are they a really good fit?’ And everybody has different areas of interest within the group. Some are more research-inclined; one developed a curriculum; some are more clinically oriented. That allows each hospitalist to have an identity in the group. That translated into a good expansion, and it’s been a win-win for us.
What makes someone a good fit for your program?
A: It sounds cliché, but I think the key to a strong developing program is to have a strong sense of what the group values. For us, we value the academic experience. For people going into academic medicine, the struggle is to be able to provide value to the hospital and yet stay academic. Our hospitalists are very clear—that’s our vision. With the support of the hospital and the department, we were able to do both at the same time.