Felix Aguirre, MD, entered the field of hospital medicine before the term “hospitalist” had been coined. He didn’t realize how quickly the field would explode, but it didn’t take long to find out. Aguirre helped start an inpatient service in 1994, taking care of patients for about 20 primary-care physicians. Within three years, his service cared for the patients of 360 doctors.
Dr. Aguirre cofounded Hospitalists of San Antonio in 2000, and he served as president of the company until it merged with IPC: The Hospitalist Co. three years later.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Dr. Aguirre spent several years as an air-traffic controller before attending medical school. He currently is vice president of medical affairs for California-based IPC, which provides management services to hospitalist practices in more than 400 facilities.
“The biggest reward is being part of a growth industry, helping to mold it and move it forward,” says Dr. Aguirre, who is responsible for medical and leadership oversight, as well as developing IPC’s physicians and providers. “I’m very proud it’s starting to get distinction as a separate specialty, and I really like the idea of getting in on the ground floor. Everybody likes to be one of the pioneers of an industry.”
Question: How did West Point help prepare you for your current career?
Answer: As part of your education at West Point, you need to learn to be a follower before you can learn to be a leader. Coming out of the academy, I was pretty cocky and I thought I could do anything. I’ve learned some pretty humbling lessons, and experience teaches you how to temper that attitude.
Q: How about your time as an air-traffic controller?
A: You have to be able to deal with many things at once and be able to deal with pressure. That experience is great for a career in an emergency room and in hospital medicine, where you’re juggling a lot of information and facing situations that require pretty rapid action.
Q: When you entered HM, did you have a sense of how much—and how quickly—the field would grow?
A: No. It really was in its infancy at that time … but when Dr. (Robert) Wachter (coined the term “hospitalist”), it began to pick up momentum. Before long, we could see there wasn’t going to be any slowing down of this type of medicine. It’s great to be a part of an industry that is still a growing industry, especially in this economic climate. It’s needed now more than ever, so I feel I made the correct decision to enter this field.
Q: Why do you feel it’s needed more now than ever?
A: With healthcare, there needs to be more control, clinically as well as financially. I think hospitalists are well positioned right in the middle of the hospital. They are exposed to every aspect of the hospital’s operation and staff, whether it’s the cleaning service or dietary or physical therapy or talking to specialists or other physicians. Who better to help control what happens than the person who is exposed to it?
Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your current role?
A: One of the big ones is reduction in variance. Everybody is looking for ways to reduce variance in clinical care, and that’s going to continue to be one of the biggest challenges as we grow. If you’re a small mom-and-pop business, it’s pretty easy to control things. That gets more difficult as you grow. The things that worked when you were smaller don’t work in a medium-sized company, let alone when you become a large company. You have to change the way you manage things, which leads to another challenge—adapting to the change.