The mark of any great society is balance—balance between the production realized today and the preservation of “production capacity” to ensure the same or greater production in the future. HM is not exempt from this fundamental tenet. What we do now in the way of advancing quality, efficiency, and patient safety will matter little if our contributions are not sustained by the generation that follows us.
It is tempting to think that the issue of how we train residents is germane only to universities, but the reality is that it affects us all. There are 126 “university” medical school programs, but there are 384 residency programs, most of which are within community-based hospitals. The result is that most hospitalists encounter resident physicians in some capacity, and all hospitalists will encounter the results of residency training when they welcome a new recruit to their ranks.
The education and socialization of our residents will define the character of the hospitalists of the future. But the “residency” in which most of us trained does not exist anymore: The duty-hours changes and additional training requirements have dramatically changed the landscape of residency training in the past 10 years, and another series of sea changes is underway. As with all things HM, we again have a choice: Be reactive, wait for the dust to clear, and then lament the results, or be proactive and see this change for what it is—an opportunity to improve healthcare quality now, and in the future.
HM felt the impact of the first wave of duty-hours restrictions beginning in 2003, as many training programs opted to employ hospitalists to provide the coverage that could no longer be maintained by residents working under tighter admission caps and duty-hour restrictions. In doing so, hospitalists have provided a valuable service in preserving the integrity of training environments and fidelity to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) regulations (more than 85% of training programs have hospitalists working in their systems). But the model of hospitalists working solely as “resident-extenders” is not sustainable.
First, hospitalists who work solely on nonteaching services are at great risk of burning out, especially if the distribution of patients has been manipulated such that the more interesting patients are funneled away from the hospitalist’s service to the teaching service. Second, there is a risk in perception: In models in which the hospitalist is solely the “overflow cap coverage” or the night-float physician (i.e., the resident-extender), residents come to see hospitalists as the “PGY-4, 5, 6 …” physicians—that is, the physician who becomes a resident for life. The result is a serious pipeline issue for us, as the most talented resident physicians are unlikely to forego subspecialty training for a career in HM if hospitalists are perceived as perpetual residents.
The solution is simple: The hospitalist’s role in training environments has to be more than merely solving admission cap or duty-hour issues. It is fine for hospitalists to operate nonteaching services, but the hospitalist also has to be a part of the fulfillment that comes with overseeing teaching services. Further, residents have to see the hospitalist career for what it actually is: Academic or not, HM is much more than merely clinical service. HM is about the value-added services of system interventions to improve quality and patient safety; it is about developing a career as a systems architect. Getting the best and brightest residents to choose HM as a career is contingent upon residents seeing hospitalists in the training environment who are happy and fulfilled in the execution of this career goal.