I have been a proud hospitalist for more than 20 years, and yet I have never been prouder to be a hospitalist than now. The pandemic has been brutal, killing more than 600,000 Americans as of this writing. It has stretched the health care system, its doctors, nurses, and other providers to the limit. Yet we will get through it, we are getting through it, and hospitalists deserve a huge portion of the credit.
According to the CDC, there have been over 2.3 million COVID-19 hospitalizations. In my home state of Maryland, between two-thirds and three-quarters of hospitalized COVID patients are cared for on general medical floors, the domain of hospitalists. When hospitals needed COVID units, hospitalists stepped up to design and staff them. When our ICU colleagues needed support, especially in those early dark days, hospitalists stepped in. When our outpatient colleagues were called into the hospital, hospitalists were there to help them on board. When the House of Medicine was in chaos due to COVID-19, hospitalists ran towards that fire. Our previous 20+ years of collective experience made us the ideal specialty to manage the inpatient challenges over the last 18 months.
Need a new clinical schedule by Sunday? Check.
Need help with new clinical protocols? Check.
Need to help other colleagues? Check.
Need to reprogram the EMR? Check.
Need a new way to teach residents and students on the wards? Check.
Need a whole new unit – no, wait – a new hospital wing? No, scratch that – a whole new COVID hospital in a few weeks? Check. (I personally did that last one at the Baltimore Convention Center!)
For me and many hospitalists like me, it is as if the last 20 years were prep work for the pandemic.
Here at SHM, we know the pandemic is hard work – exhausting, even. SHM has been actively focused on supporting hospitalists during this crisis so that hospitalists can focus on patients. Early in the pandemic, SHM quickly pivoted to supply hospitalists with COVID-19 resources in their fight against the coronavirus. Numerous COVID-19 webinars, a COVID addendum to the State of Hospital Medicine Report, and a dedicated COVID issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine were early and successful information dissemination strategies.
As the world – and hospitalists – dug in for a multi-year pandemic, SHM continued to advance the care of patients by opening our library of educational content for free to anyone. Our Public Policy Committee was active around both COVID-19- and hospitalist-related topics: immigration, telehealth, wellbeing, and financial impacts, to name a few.
As the pandemic slogged on, our Wellbeing Task Force came up with innovative support measures, including a check-in guide for hospitalists and fellow health care workers and dedicated wellness sessions complete with a licensed therapist for members. All the while, despite the restrictions and hurdles the pandemic has thrown our way, SHM members keep meeting and collaborating through virtual chapter events, committee work, special interest groups, and our annual conference, SHM Converge. Thank you to the countless members who donated their time to SHM, so that SHM could support hospitalists and their patients.
Now, we are transitioning into a new phase of the pandemic. The medical miracles that are the COVID-19 vaccines have made that possible. Fully vaccinated, I no longer worry that every time someone sneezes, or when I care for patients with a fever, that I am playing a high stakes poker game with my life. Don’t get me wrong; as I write, the Delta variant has a hold on the nation, and I know it’s not over yet. But it does appear as if the medical war on COVID is shifting from national to regional (or even local) responses.
During this new phase, we must rebuild our personal and professional lives. If you haven’t read Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling’s perspective piece in the August issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine, I strongly encourage you to do so. He shares profound lessons on transitioning from active combat that are directly applicable to hospitalists who have been “deployed” battling COVID-19.
SHM will continue to pivot to meet our members’ needs too. We are already gearing up for more in-person education and networking. Chapters are starting to meet in person, and SHM is happy to provide visiting faculty. I will visit members from Florida to Maine and places in between starting this fall! Our Board of Directors and other SHM leaders are also starting to meet with members in person. Our own Leadership Academy will take place at Amelia Island in Florida in October, where we can learn, network, and even decompress. We also can’t wait for SHM Converge 2022 in Nashville, where we hope to reunite with many of you after 2 years of virtual conferences.
Our response to the pandemic, a once in a century crisis where our own safety was at risk, where doing the right thing might mean death or harming loved ones, our response of running into the fire to save lives is truly inspiring. The power of care – for our patients, for our family and friends, and for our hospital medicine community and the community at large – is evident more now than ever.
There have always been good reasons to be proud of being a hospitalist: taking care of the acutely ill, helping hospitals improve, teaching young doctors, and watching my specialty grow by leaps and bounds, to name just a few. But I’ve never been prouder than I am now.
Dr. Howell is the CEO of the Society of Hospital Medicine.