Born, raised, educated, and trained in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Nick Fitterman, MD, FACP, SFHM, is as New York as New Yorkers get. After 14 years in private practice, he “saw the handwriting on the wall” and founded a hospitalist program in the community hospital down the street. He served six years as HM group director at Huntington (N.Y.) Hospital, immersing himself in patient care and the inner workings of the health system.
Six months ago, he moved into a new, full-time administrative position as medical director of group health management for North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, a 16-hospital system that includes 408-bed Huntington. The post is in a newly created department and focuses on “connecting parts of our healthcare system that will help serve us in the new landscape of healthcare reform as we move from individual health to population health, as we move from a model of illness to a model of wellness,” he says.
“Parts are already in our system, and my job is to link them together, help build up what needs to be built up, and to fill gaps where they exist,” he says.
Dr. Fitterman, who joined Team Hospitalist earlier this year, plans to continue working a few hospitalist shifts a month with his former group, but his new mission is clear: “Getting providers to recognize the need and the sense of urgency to redesign the way they practice medicine,” he says.
Question: What is the biggest difference between outpatient and inpatient care?
Answer: There are two significant differences. One would be the acuity of the patient. The outpatient is not as acutely ill as those in the hospital. That’s one of the things that drew me to hospital medicine. The other big difference is continuity; it is lost in the hospital. In outpatient medicine, I was able to take care of multiple generations of the same family over many years. In hospital medicine, I would only see an individual patient for three to five days.
Q: What do you like most about working as a hospitalist?
A: I enjoy the challenge of taking care of the acutely ill. An illness may be compressed into a few days, and you need to figure out quickly, and take action that has meaningful impact swiftly. I find that challenging. The other thing that I found quite challenging is the opportunity for hospitalists to help create and execute policy in the hospital that will impact the care of the whole community. As a hospitalist, you can be involved in drafting and executing policy that will impact literally tens of thousands of lives in your community. In your office, you will be more limited to the average 2,500-patient panel that an internist has.
Q: Why have you dedicated yourself to committee work?
A: I encourage any early-career physician to get involved in committees. I entered into a lot of committees … and then I broadened my committee involvement to have a better idea of all the on-goings in the hospital. It also served as a teaching vehicle, to help me understand that people are working on things just like you want to. Committee work allows you to collaborate with people who have mutual interests, instead of feeling like you’re at the end of a process and being prescribed some policy.