After navigating a pandemic that turned the world – including the world of hospital medicine – upside down for so long, the very idea of returning to a “normal” career and way of life can seem strange.
Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, MHM, assistant dean for scholarship and discovery and associate chief medical officer for clinical learning environment at the University of Chicago, offered guidance to hospitalists on the transition from pandemic life to postpandemic life on May 5 at SHM Converge, the annual conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine.
The pandemic, Dr. Arora said, showed how important it is to develop trust. When resources were scarce as dire COVID-19 cases flooded hospitals, a culture of trust was essential to getting through the crisis.
“My team expects me to speak up on their behalf – it’s how we do things. It’s so germane to safety,” Dr. Arora said. “This is what you’re looking for in your organization – a place of psychological safety and trust.”
Surveys show that patients do trust their physicians, and healthcare providers “got a big bump” in trust during the pandemic, she said, which offers a unique opportunity.
“Doctors are trusted messengers for the COVID vaccine,” she said. “It really does matter.” But clinicians should also advocate for social justice, she said. “We must speak up even louder to fight everyday racism.”
As hospitalists move into the postpandemic medical world, Dr. Arora encouraged them to “get rid of delusions of grandeur,” expecting incredible accomplishments around every corner.
“Amazing things do happen, but oftentimes they happen because we sustain the things we start,” Dr. Arora said. For instance, physicians should consider small changes in workflow, but then sustain those changes. Maintaining pushes for change is not necessarily the norm, she said, adding that all hospitalists are probably familiar with quality improvement projects that generate only 3 months of data, because of lost focus.
Hospitalists should also “seek out information brokers” in the postpandemic medical world, or those interacting with a variety of groups who are often good sources of ideas. Hospitalists, she said, are “natural information brokers,” communicating routinely with a wide variety of specialists and healthcare professionals.
“You’ve got to know what’s important to your organization and to your patients and to everybody else,” Dr. Arora said.
She suggested that hospitalists find “zero-gravity thinkers,” and even to be this type of thinker themselves – one who stays open to new ideas and has diverse interests and experiences.
It is easy to settle into the same ways we’ve always done things, Dr. Arora said.
“The truth is there are ways that it can be better,” she said. “But we sometimes have to seek out new ideas and maintain an open mind – and sometimes we need someone to do it for us.”
Often, those closest to us are the least valuable in this regard, she said, referring to them as “innovation killers.”
“They’re not going to give you the next breakthrough idea,” she said. “You have to get outside of your network to understand where the good ideas are coming from.”
With the trauma that hospitalists have experienced for more than a year, well-being might never have been a more vital topic than it is now, Dr. Arora said.
“We’re done with online wellness modules,” she said. “Fix the system and not the person because we all know the system is not working for us. As hospitalists, we actually are experts at fixing systems.”
Dr. Arora said that one way to think of how to improve hospitalist well-being is by emphasizing “the Four Ts” – teamwork (such as the use of scribes and good communication), time (consider new work schedule models), transitions (refining workflows) and tech (technology that works for clinicians rather than creating a burden).
As hospitalists attempt to move ahead in their post–COVID-19 careers, the key is finding new challenges and never stopping the learning process, Dr. Arora said. Referring to a concept described by career coach May Busch, she said physicians can consider successful careers as a “series of S curves” – at the beginning, there is a lot of work without much advancement, followed by a rapid rise, and then arrival at the destination, which brings you to a new plateau higher up the ladder. At the higher plateau, hospitalists should “jump to a new S curve,” learning a new skill and embarking on a new endeavor, which will lift them even higher.
“Success,” Dr. Arora said, “is defined by continuous growth and learning.”
Dr. Arora reported having no financial disclosures.