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Community Service Helps Hospitalists Build Connections, Earn Credibility


Dr. Nagendran

Dr. Nagendran (third from right) takes part in the Dauterive Hospital Halloween festivities.

Dr. Nagendran

Dr. Nagendran (left) participates in the hospital’s annual “Gumbo Cook-Off.”

Hospitalist Brian Bossard, MD, FACP, FHM, founder and medical director of Inpatient Physician Associates, which serves Bryan Health Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb., as well as Columbus (Neb.) Community Hospital and Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, recalls a time when the suggestion of community involvement was a non-starter for physicians. Twenty years ago, he says, “the idea was that physicians work so many hours that there wasn’t time for community involvement.” In the ensuing years, the advent of shift-based work has created an opportunity for hospitalists to connect to community.

Learning the ropes takes the majority of a physician’s time in the first year or two on a new assignment right after residency, Dr. Bossard says. But after initial orientation, young hospitalists in their group are encouraged to become “joiners.”

“We identify activities that the physicians can participate in—many of them medically related, such as sitting on the board of a local blood bank,” he says. “Feeling a part of something bigger, and participating in areas outside of your direct control, can add to satisfaction.”

And that, in turn, can lead to engaged, satisfied, happy, and retained physicians.

Closing the Credibility Gap

David Grace, MD, FHM, SFHM area medical officer for The Schumacher Group’s Hospital Medicine Division in Lafayette, La., agrees that community involvement can lead to improved engagement, as well as a better sense of belonging and job satisfaction. He also encourages younger hospitalists to become engaged in their local communities. Participating in volunteer activities can lead to:

  • Better public understanding of what hospitalists do;
  • Better relationships with key hospital and community stakeholders; and
  • Better use of down time for long-distance hospitalist commuters.
“When you meet these people in the hospital after an event, you are seen as more approachable. Especially for hospitalists, we need to build relationships.”—Manikandan Nagendran, MD, medical director of the hospital medicine program at Dauterive Hospital in New Iberia, La.

Regarding his first point, Dr. Grace finds that despite the growth of the hospitalist movement, many consumers still do not understand the role hospitalists play in patient care. Encountering hospitalists in the community helps patients put a public and familiar face on the concept. Community involvement can function as “direct-to-consumer advertising,” he says, when patients express a preference for hospitals based on their interface with hospitalists in the community. He notes that “the smaller the town, the more likely there will be a dividing line between the community and ‘outsiders.’ The chance to go from being an outsider to an insider can have a profound effect on your success, your future, and your happiness.”

Because the business of healthcare is based on relationships, interacting with hospital stakeholders at youth sporting events and other gatherings gives hospitalists a chance to build relationships away from the pressures of the work environment. At the core of community involvement, Dr. Grace says, is the reality that “we are social creatures. There’s something about developing a bond away from the hospital that provides a unique strength, compared to a bond formed solely in the hospital environment.”

Manikandan Nagendran, MD, medical director of the hospital medicine program at Dauterive Hospital in New Iberia, La., has strengthened his professional relationships through community participation. After completing his residency, he joined the Schumacher hospitalist program at Dauterive Hospital. Burt Bujard, MD, who had begun the HM program just two years prior, took Dr. Nagendran under his wing. Not only did he introduce Dr. Nagendran to community primary care providers and specialists, he also fostered his involvement with some of the hospital’s traditions, such as the Gumbo Cook-Off and annual Berry Ball. Organized by all the physicians and their spouses, “the Berry Ball is a great social event to meet lots of nurses, doctors, and administrative people,” Dr. Nagendran says.

During last year’s cook-off, he volunteered to help his group’s nurse practitioner and her husband, both New Iberia residents, set up their booth and serve gumbo to the public.

“When you encounter another physician or hospital administrator at an event, you always get to know something different about that person,” he says. “When you meet people on a different level at a social event, and exchange phone numbers, your relationship changes in many ways.”

Since he maintains his home in Lafayette, a 30-minute commute away, he wanted to invest time in New Iberia community activities. “One of the reasons I go to these events,” he says, “is so they understand that I’m part of their community here.

“When you meet these people in the hospital after an event, you are seen as more approachable. Especially for hospitalists, we need to build relationships.”

Six years ago, the Dauterive hospital medicine program had 15 contracts with community PCPs. That number is now up to 58.

And when Dr. Bujard retired in 2011, Dr. Nagendran became medical director.

Dr. Grace notes that community involvement can also serve to keep one’s life in balance. Referring to the “systolic/diastolic lifestyle” of hospitalist shifts, he says that “introducing a little bit of community and enjoyment into your down time can also increase job satisfaction during your work time.”

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Connecting Outside the Box

We asked veteran hospitalists for some examples of community volunteering activities:

  • Volunteer to help the county health department;
  • Sit on the board of a local blood bank;
  • Work with local volunteer organizations, such as Rotary International or the Lions Club;
  • Help out with charity benefits, 5K runs, and similar events;
  • Coach youth sports teams, such as Little League, Pop Warner, or YMCA; or
  • Volunteer to help with community events organized by your hospital.

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