Pediatric hospitalist Jeff Sperring, MD, says he did not go into medicine with aspirations of becoming a hospital administrator. Last November, however, he was named president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. It’s a path into healthcare leadership, he believes, that other pediatric hospitalists can and will follow.
“Being a hospitalist was critical to that progression. You are there; you understand what needs to be changed. More than anything else, it’s just being available, willing, and able to help,” Dr. Sperring says. “You lead one project, that leads to additional roles, and that leads to this.”
Dr. Sperring is one of a handful of pediatric hospitalists who have joined the C-suite and assumed major administrative responsibilities in their hospitals. Most say their HM experience was crucial to the journey.
Another pediatric hospitalist, Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, SFHM, earlier this year was named chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (see “Pediatric Hospitalist Takes CMS Leadership Position,” June 2011, p. 28), and is responsible for administering federal healthcare quality initiatives and setting the government’s quality agenda. Dr. Conway, previously director of hospital medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says that pediatric HM, in particular, lines up with major priorities in healthcare reform—most notably patient-centered care.
“Pediatricians often have strong communication skills honed by taking care of patients and their families,” Dr. Conway says. “Our training typically emphasizes team-based care and improving the health system.”
The path to hospital leadership might be a little different from the pediatric side. But he urges pediatric hospitalists to look for opportunities beyond pediatrics, within the larger healthcare system and the care of adult patients.
“I am an example of the potential for pediatric hospitalists to take on broader leadership roles,” Dr. Conway says. “I encourage medical students to consider pediatric hospital medicine, with its opportunities for leading change and taking care of patients at the same time.”
Leaders on the path to such C-suite positions as chief executive office (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief medical officer (CMO), or chief quality officer (CQO) stress the importance of finding mentors, both within and outside of the hospital, and creating effective teams in which to work. Whether a degree in business or a related field is an essential part of that journey is debatable. Dr. Sperring, for example, did not pursue formal business training, instead concentrating on leadership development. He took a one-year, part-time, multidisciplinary course on the subject offered by Indiana University. “To me, this is about understanding healthcare, how it is delivered, and then having the leadership skills to be able to make change,” he explains.
HM, with its bird’s-eye view of hospital processes and systems, is a good place to start, adds Paul Hain, MD, associate chief of staff and medical director for performance management and improvement at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. “I also think you have to understand quality improvement and be willing to measure, measure, measure.”
But advancing up the hospital’s organization chart requires something more, he notes. “A leader also needs to have a world view that things that are broken need to be fixed,” he says.
Dr. Hain studied engineering in college and worked as an engineer before attending medical school. That experience, he says, laid the foundation for “thinking about processes in healthcare systems, and the use of statistics to help understand those processes.”
The way we’re used to defining care is going to change dramatically. Hospitalists will play a key role, both in direct care delivery but also in leadership. I don’t think hospitalists have a choice but to lead change.
—Jeff Sperring, MD, hospitalist, president, CEO, Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, Indianapolis