Klaus Suehler, MD, FHM, grew up in Germany and studied in Munich but dreamed of one day becoming the next Marcus Welby, MD. So he trained in Minnesota and has now worked for the same physician group for nearly two decades.
“Like many of us, I had some romantic ideas of being a doctor, running around with my black bag, figuring out a patient’s diagnosis that everyone else had missed,” says Dr. Suehler, one of the newest members of Team Hospitalist, the volunteer editorial advisory group for The Hospitalist. “As I was more seriously contemplating medicine, hospital medicine [presented] an intellectual challenge, the opportunity of applying science outside of a lab, and to be of service and to develop relationships with one’s patients.”
Dr. Suehler says internal medicine appealed to him because it was, and still is, “somewhat of an art” and affords him professional freedom. In 1994, straight out of residency, he joined Midwest Internal Medicine in Coon Rapids, Minn., an internal medicine group that, at the time, was breaking ground by dedicating physicians to hospital-based positions.
“The time was right. … Being at the hospital was kind of a continuation of residency anyhow. Some of my friends at my teaching hospital were starting a hospitalist service as well, and the whole concept appealed to me,” he says. “After juggling outpatient clinic and my weeks at the hospital for about five to six years, I finally became a full-time hospitalist.”
Since 2000, he has worked only as a hospitalist with Midwest Internal Medicine, serving as the hospitalist group’s leader for eight of those years.
Question: What do you like most about working as a hospitalist?
Answer: I like the challenging cases and the opportunity to collaborate with other specialists and the staff on the wards. We always learn from each other within our hospitalist group, as we are taking care of each other’s patients. There is ample opportunity to informally discuss complex patients and their treatment.
Q: What do you dislike most?
A: Overly busy call nights. I must say, though, at least at our hospital we have the opportunity to close our service for admissions, if we feel the workload would no longer be safe.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: There was no single advice that I can recall related to my HM practice. What really helped very much was the ongoing input and advice that I received through formal leadership training, which I received during the time as the leader of our group. It helped me to be more grounded, resilient, and effective, both as a professional and a person.
Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in HM in your career?
A: The field has essentially become its own specialty. There is an increased focus on the operational part of taking care of patients in the hospital, as well as the transitions, which goes beyond the medical aspects of patient care for, let’s say, patients presenting with congestive heart failure.
Q: Why is it important for group leaders to continue seeing patients?
A: It adds credibility to their leadership. There is nothing like shouldering new responsibilities or high workloads together with your partners.
Q: Outside of patient care, what about your job interests you the most?
A: Quality and patient safety are of great interest for me. Our hospitalist group consists of about 25 hospitalists, but there are about 200 hospitalists within our health system. I participate in a steering committee within the larger system to improve medication reconciliation.
I also continue to be interested in leadership. Especially in the years to come, with all the upcoming changes in the delivery of care, performance measures, and modes of reimbursement, there will be an increased need for physician leaders.
Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?
A: It is a good sign that I have to think for a while to come up with an answer. It probably is taking care of patients with narcotic addictions or difficult personalities. Every given week there are probably one or two such patients on the service. It is challenging to do these patients justice and to provide the appropriate medical care.
Q: What is your biggest professional reward?
A: The respect of my physician colleagues, the nursing staff, and the gratitude of my patients and their families. One of my most moving experiences was when a former patient of mine walked over to my table in a Chinese restaurant and said: “Thank you for saving my life!”
Q: You were one of the first hospitalists designated Fellow in Hospital Medicine. What does that mean to you?
A: It gave me some formal recognition for the years of service I have put into HM, both in patient care and leadership, as well as for my level of experience.
Q: When you aren’t working, what is important to you?
A: The relationships with the people around me (marriage, family, friendship). In terms of what I do, it is traveling, exercising, reading, and being appreciative of the moment.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I want to continue to work as a hospitalist. I am looking into leadership opportunities. I can see shifting my focus more toward leadership or consulting roles again within the next 10 years.
Q: If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be doing right now?
A: I think I would be a lawyer. I know there is a perceived friction between these professions, but there are some common themes, such as providing expert advice or professional help in times of need.
Q: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
A: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It is an incredibly captivating story, with a marvelous imagery of old Barcelona before the Spanish Civil War.
Q: How many Apple products do you interface with in a given week?
A: Two: iPhone and iPad.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.