Practice Economics

Hospital Medicine Group Leaders Strive to Balance Administrative, Clinical Tasks


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Balance Is Key to HM Group Leaders’ Clinical Load

Should the leader of my hospitalist group have a lighter clinical load?

Cheryl Clinkenbeard, DO, MPH, Bartlesville, Okla.

Dr. Hospitalist responds:

This is an incredibly tough question, and it applies to pretty much every hospitalist program in existence. Big, small, private, teaching—every program needs leaders.

For starters, being a hospitalist program leader is generally a thankless job. It involves a heck of a lot of meetings, administrative hassles, and parsing of complaints. In my experience, it also tends to be a horrifically underpaid position. There generally is no waiting list of clinicians begging to be the group leader. Given all the time demands, I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect a leader to have a lighter clinical load. There is no way to fulfill both clinical and administrative duties while working full time, unless the group is very small (less than six FTEs). On the other hand, having a leader do no clinical work is pretty much a recipe for disaster. If your group leader is a clinician and does a lot less, or no clinical work, they will lose credibility with colleagues quickly. Group leaders focused solely on administration also lose sight of the day-to-day morale and activem issues facing the group.

The crux is trying to find the balance between admin and clinical duties. I think it is preferable to have a leader work fewer shifts but take an equivalent clinical load on those days. That allows group leaders to be viewed as “one of the team,” with the same shift responsibilities as everyone else—just not as many shifts. It’s a better way to understand the day-to-day variations and concerns of the job.

The other option is to have the leader work the same number of shifts but take a smaller census. I think this is a bad idea, mainly from the standpoint that HM is nothing if not unpredictable, and trying to protect one person’s census on a busy day is an impossible task. Either the leader will end up taking on too much clinical work (to help even the census) or the rest of the group will feel bitter that the group leader is not always available to help. I’ve seen both sides of this equation, and it is just not a good working environment.

Another factor to consider are the “undesirable” shifts. Whether it is nights or weekends, there are always shifts that folks would rather not do. A leader should continue to work these shifts, even at a reduced number, for the same reasons. Becoming an HM leader is not an excuse to design the perfect, protected schedule at the expense of the other physicians.

On balance, I think the hospitalist group leader ends up with more work, similar schedule obligations, and an inadequate pay structure. That does not make the position particularly attractive, as has been my experience over the years. However, given the opportunity to modify those variables, I think the shifts should be kept “whole” and reduced only in number, with the remainder of the compensation for the work coming in the form of increased pay. How much, you ask? Well, have a seat; this could take a while.

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