“You know no one knows what that means, right?”
These were the words my wife told me after I was accepted to a pediatric hospital medicine fellowship and was spreading the word to family and friends. I was baffled, “What do you mean?” I asked her. “I mean, no one knows what that means…inpatient doctor. You keep telling my parents that, but they have no clue what that means.” I looked at her and said, “Really?” After all the conversations we’ve had on the phone, through medical school, through residency, at family events, surely my closest family members had heard me use this term before and knew what it meant. “No, they don’t; I didn’t even know until fairly recently, and that’s only because you’ve been talking about it so much.” After some more discussion, turned out my own parents didn’t really seem to get it either. “I’m just going to take care of hospitalized children, Mom. No, I won’t have a clinic. Where am I going to see them? I am going to see them INSIDE the hospital. I’m going to be a pediatric hospitalist.”
“What is it you’re doing again? Two more years of residency, right?” sarcastically joked my urology resident friend when he asked what I was doing once residency was over. It seemed like I was an alien to everyone, even to those “in the know.”
And thus began my long journey of countless explanations of what it was I was so excited to do that no one else seemed to know about.
When people ask me what specialty of pediatrics I practice, I often stop and ask them what they mean. Is there something “special” about what I do? Do I belong to an organ system? Well, I guess not just one, but all of them I say. I explain to them that as a hospitalist, my “organ” is the hospital. I can be involved in anything that happens inside (and sometimes outside) of the hospital walls.
If the organ is the hospital, then at the very basic level, the “cell” is that interaction between health care provider and patient. When we break it down, the whole reason the hospital walls were put up in the first place is that very special “cell”. In that light, it is my responsibility to make sure the cells are functioning as best as possible so that the organ works efficiently and well. Whether it is medication safety, health information technology, resident education, quality improvement initiatives, evidence-based practice guidelines, or clinical research, the opportunities are never-ending.
As I finish my hospitalist fellowship and embark on the next stage in my career, I am constantly excited about the future to come. Each quarter, Hospital Pediatrics lands on my desk with more pages than it had 3 months ago. More and more residents ask me about my career path and want to learn more about fellowship. I got to meet Samir Shah at Pediatric Hospital Medicine 2012 (and actually*gasp*spoke to him) and was able to attend the first ever annual Pediatric Hospital Medicine Fellows Conference to meet others like myself. I have been able to put more faces to the “famous” names I read responses from on the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Hospital Medicine listserv. I have been provided opportunities to make an impact in improving my hospital system in ways that I didn’t think physicians could. And, I am already at the point where I can start a sentence with “Back in my day, call lasted…”
As I write this, an important meeting of some of the leaders in our field comes to a close, and I wonder what the future holds for our careers. A certificate? A board? Residency tracks? No big changes? There’s so much to be decided. Until it is settled, however, one thing is certain in my mind: I’ll still have to keep reminding my friends and family exactly just what kind of doctor I am.
But, I am content with that. Communication is, after all, one thing we have been trained to be good at, isn’t it? And probably my best accomplishment in that regard is that my mom can now finally explain exactly what it is that I do. How’s that for some teach-back?
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The author has indicated he has no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.
FUNDING: No external funding.
- Copyright © 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics