In some ways, Femi Adewunmi, MD, MBA, CPE, SFHM, seemed destined to become a physician. He grew up in a medical family—his mother is an orthodontist; his father is an obstetrician/gynecologist. As a child, he often spent holidays visiting patients at the hospital where his dad worked. He grew to appreciate medicine as a noble profession, and when he reached his teens, he never seriously considered another career path.
“There were times when I was in medical school, dreading having to study for the numerous tests and exams, when I wished I had someone I could have blamed my decision to go to medical school on,” says Dr. Adewunmi, a native of Nigeria who has practiced as a hospitalist in the U.S. since 2003. “But no one pushed me to do it. It was something I always looked forward to doing, and I’m very glad I stuck with it.”
Dr. Adewunmi has only become more passionate about his work since then. His experience as a front-line hospitalist laid the foundation for a series of leadership roles, first directing the HM program at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Smithfield, N.C., and now as regional chief medical officer for Sound Physicians, which provides inpatient services to more than 70 hospitals nationally.
“I really want to be a good physician executive,” he says. “It’s definitely a case of ‘The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.’ I still have a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
When did you decide to go into HM?
During residency, I realized I loved taking care of patients in the hospital, both along the wards and in the ICU. I enjoyed my outpatient clinics but found myself looking for any reason I could to stay in the hospital caring for patients. I was interested in patient safety and I was doing a little bit of utilization review, so I also felt it would give me a great overall perspective of the healthcare system.
What about leading the hospitalist program at Johnston Memorial appealed to you?
I enjoyed clinical medicine, and I still do, but I was looking to do more. I wanted to make an impact at a systems level, and I knew, to do that, I eventually had to gain some leadership experience.
What is the most valuable lesson you learned in that role?
Understanding that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. For instance, as a clinician, you sometimes admit patients with congestive heart failure. You diagnose correctly, treat appropriately, and in a few days, the patients do better and go home. You get pretty swift gratification. Administration is much different. You put processes in place and it could take weeks or several quarters before you start to see the effects of the changes you implement.
What appealed to you about moving from a single-site leadership position at Johnston to a regional position with Sound?
I wanted to continue evolving. I wanted more of a challenge and was seeking opportunities where I would have operational responsibility—overseeing performance improvement in quality, satisfaction, and financial performance for several programs. In addition, I wanted to be accountable for physician development, recruiting, negotiations, and the whole gamut of business development. It was the next logical step in my career.