Public Policy

Making a difference


 

Strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion

In September 2020, Michael Bryant, MD, became the inaugural vice chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the department of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where he is also the division head of pediatric hospital medicine. “I was motivated to apply for this position because I wanted to be an agent for change to eliminate the institutional racism, social injustice, and marginalization that continues to threaten the lives and well-beings of so many Americans,” Dr. Bryant said.

Dr. Michael Bryant, pediatric hospitalist, Children's Hospital of Los Angeles

Dr. Michael Bryant

Between the pandemic, the economic decline it has created, and the divisive political landscape, people of color have been especially affected. “These are poignant examples of the ever-widening divide and disenfranchisement many Americans feel,” said Dr. Bryant. “Gandhi said, ‘Be the change that you want to see,’ and that is what I want to model.”

At work, advocacy for diversity, equality, and inclusion is an innate part of everything he does. From the new physicians he recruits to the candidates he considers for leadership positions, Dr. Bryant strives “to have a workforce that mirrors the diversity of the patients we humbly care for and serve.”

Advocacy is intrinsic to Dr. Bryant’s worldview, in his quest to understand and accept each individual’s uniqueness, his desire “to embrace cultural humility,” his recognition that “our differences enhance us instead of diminishing us,” and his willingness to engage in difficult conversations.

“Advocacy means that I acknowledge that intent does not equal impact and that I must accept that what I do and what I say may have unintended consequences,” he said. “When that happens, I must resist becoming defensive and instead be willing to listen and learn.”

Dr. Bryant is proud of his accomplishments and enjoys his advocacy work. In his workplace, there are few African Americans in leadership roles. This means that he is in high demand when it comes to making sure there’s representation during various processes such as hiring and vetting, a disparity known as the “minority tax.”

“I am thankful for the opportunities, but it does take a toll at times,” Dr. Bryant said, which is yet another reason why he is a proponent of increasing diversity and inclusion. “This allows us to build the resource pool as these needs arise and minimizes the toll of the ‘minority tax’ on any single person or small group of individuals.”

This summer, physicians from Dr. Bryant’s hospital participated in the national “White Coats for Black Lives” effort. He found it to be “an incredibly moving event” that hundreds of his colleagues participated in.

Dr. Bryant’s advice for hospitalists who want to get involved in advocacy efforts is to check out the movie “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” “He was a champion of human rights and fought for these rights until his death,” Dr. Bryant said. “He is a true American hero and a wonderful example.”

Bolstering health care change

Since his residency, Joshua Lenchus, DO, FACP, SFHM, has developed an ever-increasing interest in legislative advocacy, particularly health policy. Getting involved in this arena requires an understanding of civics and government that goes beyond just the basics. “My desire to affect change in my own profession really served as the catalyst to get involved,” said Dr. Lenchus, the regional chief medical officer at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “What better way to do that than by combining what we do on a daily basis in the practice of medicine with this new understanding of how laws are passed and promulgated?”

Dr. Lenchus has been involved with both state and national medical organizations and has served on public policy committees as a member and as a chair. “The charge of these committees is to monitor and navigate position statements and policies that will drive the entire organization,” he said. This means becoming knowledgeable enough about a topic to be able to talk about it eloquently and adding supporting personal or professional illustrations that reinforce the position to lawmakers.

He finds his advocacy efforts “incredibly rewarding” because they contribute to his endeavors “to help my colleagues practice medicine in a safe, efficient, and productive manner.” For instance, some of the organizations Dr. Lenchus was involved with helped make changes to the Affordable Care Act that ended up in its final version, as well as changes after it passed. “There are tangible things that advocacy enables us to do in our daily practice,” he said.

When something his organizations have advocated for does not pass, they know they need to try a different outlet. “You can’t win every fight,” he said. “Every time you go and comment on an issue, you have to understand that you’re there to do your best, and to the extent that the people you’re talking to are willing to listen to what you have to say, that’s where I think you can make the most impact.” When changes he has helped fight for do pass, “it really is amazing that you can tell your colleagues about your role in achieving meaningful change in the profession.”

Dr. Lenchus acknowledges that advocacy “can be all-consuming at times. We have to understand our limits.” That said, he thinks not engaging in advocacy could increase stress and potential burnout. “I think being involved in advocacy efforts really helps people conduct meaningful work and educates them about what it means not just to them, but to the rest of the medical profession and the patients that we serve,” he said.

For hospitalists who are interested in health policy advocacy, there are many ways to get involved, Dr. Lenchus said. You could join an organization (many organized medical societies have public policy committees), participate in advocacy activities, work on a political campaign, or even run for office yourself. “Ultimately, education and some level of involvement really will make the difference in who navigates our future as hospitalists,” he said.

Questioning co-management practices

Though he says he’s in the minority, Hardik Vora, MD, SFHM, medical director for hospital medicine at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Va., believes that co-management is going to “make or break hospital medicine. It’s going to have a huge impact on our specialty.”

In the roughly 25-year history of hospital medicine, it has evolved from admitting and caring for patients of primary care physicians to patients of specialists and, more recently, surgical patients. “Now there are (hospital medicine) programs across the country that are pretty much admitting everything,” said Dr. Vora.

As a recruiter for the Riverside Health System for the past eight years, “I have not met a single resident who is trained to do what we’re doing in hospital medicine, because you’re admitting surgical patients all the time and you have primary attending responsibility,” Dr. Vora said. “I see that as a cause of a significant amount of stress because now you’re responsible for something that you don’t have adequate training for.”

In the co-management discussion, Dr. Vora notes that people often bring up the research that shows that the practice has improved surgeon satisfaction. “What bothers me is that…you need to add one more question – how does it affect your hospitalists? And I bet the answer to that question is ‘it has a terrible effect.’”

The expectations surrounding hospitalists these days is a big concern in terms of burnout, Dr. Vora said. “We talk a lot about the drivers of burnout, whether it’s schedule or COVID,” he said. The biggest issue when it comes to burnout, as he sees it, is not COVID; it’s when hospitalists are performing tasks that make them feel they aren’t adding value. “I think that’s a huge topic in hospital medicine right now.”

Dr. Vora believes there should be more discussion and awareness of the potential pitfalls. “Hospitalists should get involved in co-management where they are adding value and certainly not take up the attending responsibility where they’re not adding value and it’s out of the scope of their training and expertise,” he said. “Preventing scope creep and burnout from co-management are some of the key issues I’m really passionate about.”

Dr. Vora said it is important to set realistic goals and remember that it takes time to make change when it comes to advocacy. “You still have to operate within whatever environment is given to you and then you can make change from within,” he said.

His enthusiasm for co-management awareness has led to creating a co-management forum through SHM in his local Hampton Roads chapter. He was also a panelist for an SHM webinar in February 2021 in which the panelists debated co-management.

“I think we really need to look at this as a specialty. Are we going in the right direction?” Dr. Vora asked. “We need to come together as a specialty and make a decision, which is going to be hard because there are competing financial interests and various practice models.”

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