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Hospital Medicine’s Work-Life Balance Keeps Midori Larrabee Grounded


Constant Gardener

When she isn’t attending to patients or grappling with the latest update to electronic health records (EHR), Midori Larrabee, MD, is getting her hands dirty.


Dr. Larrabee, a former hospitalist medical director at the 30-bed Valley General Hospital in Monroe, Wash., and her husband live on 2.5 acres of “paradise” outside of Seattle. They grow their own vegetables and recently planted an orchard. “We hope to get chickens next year,” she says.

“I love cooking and spending time with my husband, enjoying our little paradise,” says Dr. Larrabee, now working full-time as a hospitalist at 349-bed Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, Wash. “I think being a hospitalist will only be sustainable if I have time away from the hospital to think about non-medical issues—like what worm is eating my radishes.”

Leisure-time passions aside, Dr. Larrabee chose HM for many of the same reasons hospitalists around the country do: “a variety of patients, the acuity of care, and the flexibility of the schedule. With half of the month off, I have time for activities other than clinical medicine.”

She considers herself a problem solver, using both sides of the brain to care for patients, mitigate staff schedules, and contribute to quality improvement projects.

“Initially, I was attracted to medicine due to my interest in biochemistry and the physiology of how we function,” says Dr. Larrabee, one of nine new members of Team Hospitalist, the volunteer, editorial advisory group for The Hospitalist. “As I’ve grown up, I started to see the value in being a part of patients/families’ lives during an event like a hospitalization. I can use my knowledge to help guide them, educate them, and, hopefully, reassure them during a time when they may feel helpless.”

Question: How did you decide to become a hospitalist?

Answer: I decided to become a hospitalist during residency. Even though the ward months were grueling, I loved being part of an inpatient team and managing the variety of patients that came through the door. I liked all of my subspecialty rotations but didn’t want to lose the ability to manage multiple diseases. Also, I liked dealing with sicker patients where more acute decisions had to be made and the results were quickly evident.

Q: Outside of patient care, tell me about your career interests?

A: I am on the P&T committee at (Overlake), and work as part of a team developing projects to improve patient satisfaction during their hospitalization. During the summers I perform evaluations of local medic students at the end of their training program (done through the Seattle Fire Department). I have previously been on the Medical Executive Committee at my smaller hospital and really enjoyed those activities. I would like to be more involved in quality projects at my hospital and hopefully will find some opportunities in the next year.

Even though the ward months were grueling, I loved being part of an inpatient team and managing the variety of patients that came through the door. I liked all of my subspecialty rotations but didn’t want to lose the ability to manage multiple diseases.

–Dr. Larrabee

Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?

A: Make yourself happy. If you keep coming back to the question “Am I happy?” you can always have a way to center yourself. If you say “Yes,” then you can feel good about where you are in life, even if that wasn’t what you were expecting or planning. If you say “No,” then at least you now know that something needs to change.

Q: What’s the one thing you most dislike about your job?

A: The time spent with the electronic health record. I am spending more time figuring out how to order a therapy, write a note, or sign an order than actually at the bedside interacting with the patient.

Q: What is your biggest professional challenge?

A: My lack of patience. I want to be in more leadership positions, be a respected physician at my hospital, and have a greater role in the community NOW. I have only worked at my larger hospital for about a year, and I know it takes time to get to know everyone, get to know the culture of the hospital, and work my way up the ranks.

Q: What is your biggest professional reward?

A: I love when I really connect with a patient or family and feel like I’ve made a difference. As a hospitalist, it sometimes feels like I am admitting patients with chronic medical problems that will never get better, get them just well enough to leave the hospital, but never really make a difference. When you can really connect, that is always a great reward. An example is an elderly patient I cared for recently. He was clearly dying, but the family was having a hard time accepting his course. I spent time with the family and helped them reconcile their hopes to keep him comfortable with their fears about killing the patriarch of the family. They eventually transitioned the patient to hospice care, and although he did pass away, I feel like I was able to make the patient’s death a little better for the family and for him.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: I always see myself working clinically for at least part of my time. Medicine would get too boring if it wasn’t for the patients. That said, I like a variety of activities and stay motivated when something new is on the horizon. I don’t know if a climb up the ladder is in my future, but if things work out that way, I would be open to the chance. Otherwise, I try and keep my eyes out for new challenges. If I try and plan my path out too much, I will miss those great, unexpected opportunities.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

A: “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison. I love to cook and garden, and this book describes the different edible members of botanical families—and then gives recipes. The book motivates you to try new varieties in the garden and kitchen. The beautiful pictures didn’t hurt, either. Pictures always make a book better.

Q: How many Apple products do you interface with in a given week?

A: One, my iPhone. AppleTV never works right, so we stopped trying to use that months ago.

Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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