Residents and junior faculty have frequently asked me how they can attain a position similar to mine, focused on quality and leadership in a health care system. When I was first asked to offer advice on this topic, my response was generally something like, “Heck if I know! I just had a series of lucky accidents to get here!”
Back then, I would recount my career history. I established myself as a clinician educator and associate program director soon after Chief Residency. After that, I would explain, a series of fortunate events and health care trends shaped my career. Evidence-based medicine (EBM), the patient safety movement, a shift to incorporate value (as well as volume) into reimbursement models, and the hospital medicine movement all emerged in interesting and often synergistic ways.
A young SHM organization (then known as NAIP) grew rapidly even while the hospitalist programs I led in Phoenix, then at University of California, San Diego, grew in size and influence. Inevitably, it seemed, I was increasingly involved in quality improvement (QI) efforts, and began to publish and speak about them. Collaborative work with SHM and a number of hospital systems broadened my visibility regionally and nationally. Finally, in 2015, I was recruited away from UC San Diego into a new position, as chief quality officer at UC Davis.
On hearing this history, those seeking my sage advice would look a little confused, and then say something like, “So your advice is that I should get lucky??? Gee, thanks a lot! Really helpful!” (Insert sarcasm here).
The honor of being asked to contribute to the “Legacies” series in The Hospitalist gave me an opportunity to think about this a little differently. No one really wanted to know about how past changes in the health care environment led to my career success. They wanted advice on tools and strategies that will allow them to thrive in an environment of ongoing, disruptive change that is likely only going to accelerate. I now present my upgraded points of advice, intertwined with examples of how SHM positively influenced my career (and could assist yours):
Learn how your hospital works. Hospitalists obviously have an inside track on many aspects of hospital operations, but sometimes remain oblivious to the organizational and committee structure, priorities of hospital leadership, and the mechanism for implementing standardized care. Knowing where to go with new ideas, and the process of implementing protocols, will keep you from hitting political land mines and unintentionally encroaching on someone else’s turf, while aligning your efforts with institutional priorities improves the buy-in and resources available to do the work.
Start small, but think big. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and make sure your ideas for change work on a small scale before trying to sell the world on them. On the other hand, think big! The care you and others provide is dependent on systems that go far beyond your immediate control. Policies, protocols, standardized order sets, checklists, and an array of other tools can be leveraged to influence care across an entire health system, and in the SHM Mentored Implementation programs, can impact hundreds of hospitals.