Jairy Hunter III, MD, MBA, SFHM, was restless and wondering if office-based practice was the right career choice for him. He’d already worked as an ED tech during medical school, as an emergency physician for a few years after that, and as a family practitioner for a little more than five years.
Lucky for him, hospital medicine was taking root in his neck of the woods.
“Looking back, I realize that, at that point, I was interested in doing something different, and in becoming a leader in a new setting,” says Dr. Hunter, one of the newest members of Team Hospitalist, the volunteer editorial advisory group for The Hospitalist.
More than a decade later, Dr. Hunter is doing what he loves—acting as the “go-to guy” for coordination of care. He’s gravitated toward a career in leadership, serving 10 years as medical director of a hospitalist group in his native Charleston, S.C. and, since September 2012, as associate executive medical director for case management and care transitions at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), also in Charleston. His titles include assistant professor in the department of family medicine at MUSC.
“We are the ‘details’ people,” he says. “The people who know how to get things done and maneuver efficiently through hospital systems.”
Question: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in HM in your career?
Answer: Specialties like hospital medicine have become a sort of training ground for physicians in leadership. A lot of us were "thrust" into these positions, so to speak, with little background or training in how to be a leader. For example, I thought in order to be a physician leader, I had to work harder than everyone else, and I had to be the best doctor in the group. Let me tell you, most people will fail those tests almost every time! I think we are seeing many more hospitalists move into administrative roles along career paths like mine. It seems to be a natural fit, and I think that's very exciting.
Q: What do you dislike most about the job?
A: The disjointed scheduling patterns that many programs have in place. I feel too many programs think it’s too hard to create scheduling formats that foster longevity. I also dislike the fact that some hospitalists are on their way to somewhere else, such as fellowship or other careers. They don’t involve themselves in making the hospital better, improving the patient experience, or taking ownership of the job as a group member.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: Say “yes” as often as possible. That’s also the best advice I received when I became a dad.
Q: Why is it important for group leaders to continue seeing patients?
A: To maintain the sense of shared experience and to sustain credibility amongst your hospitalist and medical staff colleagues. In addition, medicine is our calling. We should never be so far away from it as to lose touch with patients and what we do best.
Q: Outside of patient care, what are your career interests?
A: I’m very interested in physicians in leadership. I recently changed from a large, for-profit entity to an academic medical center, so I’ve increased the amount of teaching from basically zero to about 25% of my time. I found that I really enjoy interacting with young physicians. My current role has responsibility for a number of administrative projects—specifically, several dealing with readmissions, EHR implementation, and collaborating with our outpatient physician affiliates. I find the business side of medicine interesting and surprisingly exciting, in that we are now challenged with figuring out how to maintain and improve quality care and efficient patient flow, while economic constraints are a reality.
Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?
A: Finding avenues and opportunities for advancing my career in leadership. In the organization I formerly worked for, there were few opportunities for physicians to move upward. There was very little space for advancement. Earning an advanced degree, putting my CV out on the wire, and having the courage to break with an entity where I had worked for 15-plus years was a challenge.
Q: What is your biggest professional reward?
A: Learning under a number of mentors (physicians and non-physicians, clinical and business-oriented), working with over 100 hospitalists in my career, and being able to mentor them as well. Having been given an opportunity as an administrative leader and being trusted to create solutions and collaborate with a lot of groups in my current job, using my experience as a physician and my interest in the business of healthcare, has been extremely rewarding.
Q: What does it mean to be designated a Senior Fellow in Hospital Medicine?
A: I felt gratified to receive recognition for my career path and commitment to a vision that has developed into a thriving, essential force in medicine. Hopefully, I have contributed—and will continue to contribute—to that growth in some small way.
Q: When you aren’t working, what is important to you?
A: Family, photography, music, technology, and gadgets.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I currently am enjoying a new role and testing new responsibilities and opportunities for growth as they are presented. I’ve discovered an interest in teaching, both of perceptive young physicians and physicians-in-training. I have terrific mentors who continue to provide constructive feedback and guidance. I want to see where this leads. I find that I really enjoy mentoring and working with young people.
Q: If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be doing right now?
A: I’d either be a professional photographer or a writer—maybe a graphic designer.
Q: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
A: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. It is hilarious and witty and offers a unique writing style and unexpected turns. Richard Ford’s latest book, Canada. Anything by Ford is a “must."
Q: How many Apple products do you interface with in a given week?
A: About 20.
Q: What’s next in your iTunes queue?
A: Probably something by Matthew Sweet I have a threshold of about five minutes before I usually work my love for his music into a conversation.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.