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A career change

September 2009

I recently made a big change in the direction my career was going. After several years as part of the executive team at a national hospitalist management company, I took a hard left turn and decided to do something very different. As a result, my business card now reads “Chief Medical Officer” for Locum Leaders, a national locum tenens firm specializing in hospitalist staffing.

Let me briefly tell you how I got here and what, if anything, my journey has to do with the future of hospital medicine.

When I started in our specialty, there weren’t a lot of us around. As we were all learning how to best deliver quality inpatient care, I was simultaneously building new programs as a hospitalist medical director, a role I held at hospitals in North Carolina and Georgia.

From those formative experiences, I moved on to the position of VP, medical affairs at one of the large hospitalist management groups. My new challenge was scalability. I had to take the key elements of the programs that I had built at a local level and implement them broadly across multiple hospitals on a national scale.

I enjoyed the job, and our company succeeded and grew. I also learned a valuable lesson applicable to almost every hospitalist program in the country. Simply put, our ability to deliver the highest quality care to patients is critically dependent upon maintaining appropriate physician staffing levels.

It’s one of the ironies of our specialty. Our numbers are growing. We’ve proven that we’re darn good managers of patient care–delivering positive outcomes and cost-effectiveness at the same time. But we don’t always have the man- or womanpower to get the job done on a sustainable or scalable basis.

All of which leads me to my new position and a sincere belief that locum tenens will play an increasingly important role in addressing the workforce challenges that are so prevalent in hospital medicine today.

If you have prior experience with locum tenens physicians, then you know they have an impact on everything from patient and hospital/client satisfaction to reimbursement and the stability of your full-time workforce. In my previous role, locum doctors were critical links in our success. They helped us staff and grow new programs and kept them humming as we recruited permanent physicians or gave much-needed time off to those we already employed.

I also know from experience that locum tenens physicians can be a weak link, especially if they are unable to integrate into the full-time team rapidly and seamlessly. Hospitals, for their part, don’t always have the infrastructure or experience to utilize these physicians optimally. So therein lies my new challenge.

I’m working toward the goals of better integration and better management of locum tenens physicians. It’s my hope that a new approach for hospitalist locum tenens will be a valuable resource for us all as we look to move our specialty forward in a rapidly changing environment.

I also plan to keep at least one foot firmly planted in the hospital by doing a little locum tenens work myself each month. So be nice to that “part-timer” you pass on your next shift. It could be me.