The Hampton Roads chapter of SHM in southeastern Virginia was long run by Dr. Thom Miller, so a few years ago when he recruited Gwendolyn Williams, (@GwentheDoctor), MD, FHM, as his successor, she felt she had big shoes to fill.
Well, in her first year, the chapter won a 2022 Platinum Excellence Award and a District 4 Shining Star Award. And she personally won the Unsung Hero Award (for which her board nominated her behind her back).
“You feel this sense of honor and pride,” Dr. Williams said. “You should feel a sense of honor and pride when you take over. You want to make it greater and more amazing. And you want to make that person proud, make your chapter proud. And I feel a lot of integrity in the position I have in the Society of Hospital Medicine through our chapter.”
To Dr. Williams, who is president of the medical executive committee at Sentara Careplex Hospital in Hampton, Va., what the personal and professional awards highlight is more important than the act of winning them.
“What it shows is that we brought our perspective to be immensely inclusive,” she said. “People come to our events because we don’t just have one type of event, right? We may have a lecture … but when the chapter officer and advisory board meet, we brainstorm the array of what everybody wants to see. We may not reach it all, but if somebody is interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion, we should foster that. We should cultivate that interest. If somebody is interested in updates on congestive heart failure or opioid management we bring these topics to life with engaging speakers for our members.
“What other updates are people interested in? When we have speakers who have something important to say, and we have topics that speak to our entire chapter, we bring together members, prospective members, and people we call “friends of our chapter,“ and everyone is welcome. That’s really the big takeaway and exactly the reason I stayed with this chapter for so long, is that it’s a place where I feel like I truly belong, and I can be my most authentic and genuine self. And if I can make other people feel they belong somewhere, in the vast insanity that is health care, and they are accepted and celebrated for who they are, then that is a big accomplishment.”
Dr. Williams finds it so important to provide the most targeted services possible to her chapter that she wants to launch another one. The Hampton Roads organization serves a wide geographic swath that includes large cities like Virginia Beach and Norfolk, but also the state capital of Richmond, some 90 minutes north. But since the bulk of the members are outside the capital region, Dr. Williams wants to start a Richmond outpost to better—and more closely—serve them with local leaders.
“When you’re not there all the time, it’s hard to engage people,” she said. So “we’ve been trying to help them get off the ground. We need to, because then we can collaborate and do things together.”
Meeting folks where they are, collaborating with them, and making them feel included are themes Dr. Williams preaches—and practices.
“When we as a group are meeting someone where they are, you’re honoring and respecting where they are in their life’s journey,” she said. “Not where you want them to be. So, when we’re approaching someone, I want them to be part of our group. I want everyone to be part of our group. Not because I want something out of that, but because I want what they want for themselves. And when you do that, you’re practicing compassion for another human being, you’re practicing empathy and acknowledging our shared humanity.”
For 2024, Dr. Williams and the Hampton Roads chapter are even codifying the approach. The group is launching a quarterly well-being awareness series dubbed “Reset, Refresh, and Recharge” that immerses members and their families in activities. The idea is to do more than webinars and didactic lectures on the importance of staving off burnout.
“Well-being is extremely important to our entire chapter,” Dr. Williams said. “Working in health care takes a lot of personal sacrifices, so if we can provide a forum where someone can bring their family or loved ones to an event, then they don’t have to choose. They can participate in chapter activities and still spend time with their loved ones, and it’s a win for everyone—a great way to nourish human connections.”
Befitting an award-winning chapter, the activities for 2024 don’t stop there.
“We’re looking beyond the clinical,” Dr. Williams said. “We’re looking to bring in people to talk about health policy. There is a humanitarian crisis happening in the world right now … how can we help people who we can’t physically reach, but we care deeply and want to save lives and ameliorate suffering beyond Hampton Roads? How do we train our people to do proper advocacy locally, nationally, and internationally? How do we teach our members about trauma-informed care? How do we continue to discuss moral injury in hospital medicine and frontline workers and create meaningful change for us and the next generation?”
And with that, it seems like Dr. Miller’s shoes have been filled just fine.
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.