Hospitalist John Vazquez, MD, calls it cross-pollination.
As the immediate past president of the SHM chapter in Atlanta, he’s referring to the value of networking and the role personal and professional development plays in the busy world of hospital medicine.
“The big topic of the day is physician burnout and this kind of plays into that in a way,” said Dr. Vazquez, associate director of operations at Emory University School of Medicine’s division of hospital medicine, Atlanta. “I think hospitalists, day in and day out, they come in and do their job, and they get trapped in a box of showing up and going to work, and that’s a very dangerous place to be. Cross-pollination helps turn on the creative juices.”
With more than 60 chapters stateside and another half-dozen abroad, SHM chapters are the fabric of networking for hospitals. Whether it’s local dinners, question-and-answer sessions, or Jeopardy (more on that in a minute), active chapters serve as the front lines of physician engagement with the specialty.
The Atlanta chapter dates back at least to 2005, but it was revitalized around 2010 and quickly started growing. In 2012, membership was 352. By the end of 2019, it was up 33% to 465.
Then, of course, COVID-19 happened.
Membership lapsed as hospitalists shouldered the brunt of mass hospitalization, and in 2020 it dropped to 400, a four-year low.
In May 2021, Ingrid Pinzon, MD, FACP, an assistant professor of hospital medicine at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Johns Creek, Ga., took over as president. Engagement is the key to any active chapter, so in October, she and Dr. Vazquez put on a virtual “Jeopardy” show: HM trivia, a fake host, and contestants.
Silly, fun—and an absolutely essential touchstone for hospitals and other HM professionals who were already 15 months into a pandemic.
“It was a real lifeline for those who really need the social interaction that they just weren’t getting,” Vazquez said.
Now, membership is at an all-time peak of 482. The chapter has added board members in Athens and Columbus, two suburbs more than an hour away, to grow its presence. The chapter has collaborated with counterparts in Alabama’s Wiregrass region and in Southwest Georgia, as well as with the Georgia chapter of the American College of Physicians.
Moving forward, having as many in-person events as safely possible is a priority. That’s because, in today’s world of social distancing and Zoom meetings, those connections are even more important, Dr. Pinzon said.
“One of the comments I had from one doctor who came to the last meeting was, ‘I am looking forward to continuing meeting with you guys,’” she said. “‘I really liked these topics, and I really like coming and seeing faces and mingling. I met new people.’
“As doctors, we are so overwhelmed with everything that happened with COVID that to have the opportunity to meet with a group of people who have the same feeling, it’s kind of really important. You feel like you’re on to something.”
Dr. Vazquez, who was Atlanta chapter president for six years and now chairs the regional SHM chapter district that spans four Southeast states, said the value of being involved in such activities is the “joy of practice.”
“You go to an event, and you mingle with people from other hospitals, and you’re able to see, ‘Well, they do things very differently,’” he said. “And then you start to remember your passion for patient care, and the times you’ve gone above and beyond, and the special things your hospital does. And you start to share those ideas, and it creates excitement.”
Take the meeting in August where SHM CEO Eric Howell, MD, MHM, visited Atlanta for an in-person presentation. Attendance was good, despite a surge at that time of the delta variant cases to area hospitals.
“To have Eric, for me, was like, ‘Oh, my God. We have the CEO,’” Dr. Pinzon said. “It was huge for all of us.”
“I’ve always been pleased with how the national SHM has supported the chapters. I think they really understand that the local community is really what SHM is all about. Finding ways to support the hospitalists in a local community is really important. So, they’ve really worked on sharpening the chapters over the last several years and finding ways to mentor chapters, motivate chapters, and we’re happy to be part of that network.”
In fact, Dr. Pinzon wants to network more: Thirty-minute topic sessions. Small-group meetings. Meeting with advanced practice providers. Maybe an HM-themed “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” production.
“Certainly, flexibility and resiliency are part of what is needed to run a chapter,” Dr. Vazquez said. “These are unprecedented times, and (Dr. Pinzon) has done a great job of pivoting and making sure we keep our eye on serving our hospitalists as best as we can. That’s what it’s all about.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.