Caitlin Foxley, MD, followed a nontraditional path to medicine. While attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins, she took a course in economics to fill her schedule. She enjoyed economics so much, she majored in it.
One year into a graduate program, however, she decided the business world wasn’t for her. She left school and went to work for the American Heart Association to do fundraising and health education, and there she found her calling.
Inspired by the association’s emphasis on disease prevention and the passion displayed by the physician volunteers, she decided medicine could be a good fit for her. She began taking courses part time each semester for a couple of years until she fulfilled all of her prerequisites, then applied to medical school.
Today, Dr. Foxley is medical director of Inpatient Management Inc.’s hospitalist program at Nebraska Medical Center Hospitals, a 680-bed tertiary-care center and Level 1 trauma center in Omaha. “I’d always liked science when I was younger, and it was always a strong point for me,” she says. “But working with the American Heart Association is really what sparked my interest in medicine.”
Question: How did your work with the AHA guide you into medicine?
Answer: I liked the message of prevention of diseases. Even then, in the late 1980s, they were looking at evidence-based medicine. It made sense to me. It seemed like a good way to make a difference. I thought, “This is something I could do and enjoy.”
Q: When did you make the change?
A: I had to do a few undergrad prerequisites, since economics didn’t really prepare me for medical school. I took one class per semester for a couple years while working for the heart association, then applied to medical school.
Q: After medical school, you spent five years in traditional internal-medicine practice. Did you consider going directly into hospital medicine?
A: When I got out of residency (in 2001), there really weren’t many opportunities for hospitalists in Nebraska. It was something I knew I’d like, but it wasn’t available.
Q: You made the switch in 2006. What prompted the move?
A: I was really frustrated doing traditional outpatient medicine. It was becoming increasingly difficult to provide the quality of care I wanted to give my patients. I was seeing people with complex medical problems, and I was having to do it in 15-minute increments.
Somebody I knew from the medical community had formed a hospitalist group, so I started working with him. It’s been a great career move, and it’s something I really love.
Q: What did you enjoy most about the hospital setting?
A: Everything. I like the challenge of seeing patients who are more complicated than those in the office. If I want to spend a half-hour or hour with a patient, I have that opportunity. I like the immediacy of the results, and I like being able to talk to consultants in the hospital to help formulate a diagnosis and a plan. All of that provides for better care.
Q: You assumed your current position in 2008. Did you always envision yourself moving into a leadership role?
A: I never really thought about it, but I’m glad I made the switch. There are days when it’s not all fun and games, but it’s very much been a learning opportunity. I’ve enjoyed it, and it has helped me become a better physician.
Q: How so?
A: I see the big picture. I can see what the administration wants, and I have an inside view to what hospital leadership thinks we can do better. I can share that with the other doctors. It helps us deliver better care knowing what the goals are for the hospital, our group, and the patients.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
A: Having to be the “bad guy” in an administrative role.
Q: Have you learned any techniques that make that process easier?
A: It’s important, especially when you have to deal with conflict, to be open-minded and listen carefully to all sides of the situation. You have to give everyone a chance to speak their piece.
Q: You recently completed a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Century Ride. What was that experience like?
A: It was like nothing I’d ever done before. I liked getting on my bike and riding a few miles, but I never thought I’d be able to ride 100 miles in one day. It was a life-changing experience, and I raised over $4,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which felt wonderful.
Q: Did you learn anything that you can apply as a physician?
A: I learned that if you really put your mind to it, you can accomplish a lot. At times, when I’d be going up a difficult hill, I’d think, “This is really hard, but it’s nothing like being the parent of a kid with leukemia.”
Now, as I look at people who are suffering and sick, I remember that. No matter how hard it is for me, I’m not facing what they’re facing. TH
Mark Leiser is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.