From the Society

The wave of the future

Longtime CEO bids farewell to SHM


Changing times

After more than 20 years, my leadership role as CEO at the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) has ended with the transition to Dr. Eric Howell as the new SHM CEO on July 1, 2020. Looking back, I think we can all be proud of how we have helped to shape the specialty of hospital medicine over these two decades and of how strong SHM has become to support our new specialty.

Dr. Larry Wellikson

Dr. Larry Wellikson

In 2000, few people knew what a hospitalist was (or more importantly what we could become) and the specialty of hospital medicine had not even been named yet. Today the reputation of SHM is firmly established and the specialty has been defined by a unique curriculum through the Core Competencies in Hospital Medicine for both adult and pediatric patients, and by several textbooks in hospital medicine. There are divisions or departments of hospital medicine at many hospitals and academic medical centers. We even managed to convince the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Board of Family Medicine, and the American Board of Medical Specialties to create a credential of Focused Practice in Hospital Medicine as the first-ever certification not tied to specific fellowship training.

To recognize the contributions of our members, SHM has established Awards of Excellence and the Fellow and Senior Fellow in Hospital Medicine (FHM and SFHM) designations. We have gone from a small national association in Philadelphia to create 68 active chapters and more than 20 Special Interest Groups. In my time at SHM I have attended more than 75-chapter meetings and met with thousands of hospitalists in 46 states. We now have over 20,000 members at SHM, making us the fastest growing medical specialty ever.

When I started at the National Association of Inpatient Physicians (NAIP) our only meeting was an annual CME meeting for about 150-200 people. We now hold a national meeting every year for more than 4,000 attendees that is the “Center of the Universe for Hospital Medicine.” Understanding that we needed to educate the people who will lead change in our health care system, we developed from scratch a set of Leadership Academies that has already educated more than 2,500 hospitalist leaders. To train the educators in quality improvement in medical education we developed our Quality and Safety Educator Academy (QSEA) programs, and to promote career development of academic hospitalists we created our Academic Hospitalist Academy.

SHM is the leader in adult in-practice learning, specifically designed for hospitalists. SHM members have access to a state-of-the-art comprehensive hospitalist-based online education system as well as board review and maintenance of certification (MOC) review tools in our SPARK program, specifically for hospital medicine.

In the area of quality improvement, most medical societies convene a panel of experts, develop guidelines, publish them, and hope that change will occur. SHM has been much more proactive, creating the Center for Quality Improvement that has raised more than $10 million and developed Quality Improvement programs in more than 400 hospitals over the years, winning the prestigious Eisenberg Award along the way.

When I started at NAIP in 2000, our only communication tools were a 4-page newsletter and an email listserv. Along the way we have developed a broadly read newsmagazine (The Hospitalist), a well-recognized peer reviewed journal (Journal of Hospital Medicine), a robust website, and a significant social media presence.

From the very early days we knew that our specialty would not be totally successful by only facing inward. Change was coming to our health care system and hospitalists were going to be right in the middle. Despite our young age and limited resources, we have always hit above our weight class in advocacy. We actively participated in the development of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), making suggestions in payment reform, expanding the workforce with visa reform, and expanding the team of clinicians. Along the way SHM members rose to run the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and serve as U.S. Surgeon General.

Today in these troubled times, SHM continues to be a positive voice in promoting the use of PPE, the need for increased COVID-19 testing, and the recognition of our nation’s 60,000 hospitalists as essential frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic. With its longstanding role in promoting diversity and overcoming social injustice, SHM has had a positive national voice during the protests over police brutality.

We have proved to be a good partner with many other organizations and consistently were invited to partner in coalitions with the ED physicians (ACEP), the critical care docs (SCCM), the hospitals (AHA), the house of medicine (AMA), other internists (ACP), surgeons (ACS), and pediatricians (AAP), and so many other much more established societies, because we could be an active, flexible, and knowledgeable partner for more than 20 years.

Today, SHM and hospital medicine are clearly recognized as a force in the rapidly evolving health care system. With this comes not only influence but also responsibility, and I am certain the SHM Board, membership, and staff are ready for this challenge. The economic toll of our current pandemic will see colleges and other major companies and institutions go out of business and leave the landscape. SHM has a deep foundation and a well of strength to call on and will survive and thrive into the future.

SHM has been a good fit for me professionally and personally. Many of my skills and strengths have served SHM in our “early” years. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish TOGETHER. In the end it is the people I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with throughout these past 20 years that will stay with me, many of whom are lifelong friends. My mother, even today at 93, has always asked me to leave anything I do better off than when I came in the door. As I look back at my time helping to shape and lead SHM, I am sure I have answered my mother’s challenge and more.

I look forward to seeing many of you at a future SHM meeting and reveling in the way that hospitalists will actively play an important role in shaping our health care system in the future.

Dr. Wellikson is retiring as CEO of SHM.

Live long and prosper

Back in 2000, I was extremely fortunate to land my dream job as a hospitalist at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore. That dream exceeded my wildest aspirations. During my 20-year career as faculty in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine I grew our tiny, 4 physician hospitalist group at Johns Hopkins Bayview into a multihospital program, complete with more than 150 physicians. That exceedingly rewarding work helped to shape the field of hospital medicine nationally and provided the foundation for my promotion to professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins in 2016.

Dr. Eric E. Howell, chief, division of hospital medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore

Dr. Eric E. Howell

Most professionals are lucky if they find one inspiring institution; I have found two. SHM has been my professional home since I became a hospitalist in 2000, and in that time I have dedicated as much creative energy to SHM as I have at Johns Hopkins.

Even at this time when the medical profession, and the entire world, has been rocked by the coronavirus, the fundamentals that have made SHM so successful will serve us well through the effects of this pandemic and beyond. It takes a skilled leader to nurture a professional society through the growth from only a few hundred members to thousands upon thousands, and at the same time crafting the profession into one of quality and high impact. These past 22 years Dr. Larry Wellikson, our retiring CEO, has skillfully accomplished just that by building lasting programs and people.

As you might imagine, my approach will work to add onto the legacy that Larry has left us. Yes, we will have to adapt SHM to the realities of the near future: virtual meetings, in-person events (yes, those will return one day) with appropriate social distancing until the coronavirus has faded, modified chapter meetings, and more. Someday the world will find a new normal, and SHM will evolve to meet the needs of our members and the patients we serve.

Through this pandemic and beyond, my vision – in partnership with the Board of Directors – will be to:

  • Continue the work to enhance member engagement. We are primarily a membership organization, after all.
  • Maintain our profession’s leadership role in the care continuum, particularly acute care.
  • Be a deliberate sponsor of diversity and inclusion. I believe social justice is a moral imperative, and good business.
  • Invest in teams: Chapters, special interest groups, and committees are key to success.
  • Be financially prudent, so that this organization can serve its members through the best of times and those most challenging times.

Back in 2000 I joined my dream society, the Society of Hospital Medicine. That society exceeded my wildest aspirations. During my 20-year membership I started an SHM Chapter, was a leader in the Leadership Academies, joined the Board of Directors, participated in Annual Conferences, and helped lead the SHM Center for Quality Improvement. That exceedingly rewarding partnership helped shape the field of hospital medicine nationally and provided the foundation for my next role at SHM. I am excited and grateful to be the CEO of SHM.

I’ll end with something I use every day – “Eric Howell’s Core Values”:

  • Make the world a better place.
  • Invest in people.
  • Be ethical and transparent.
  • Do what you love.
  • Try to use Star Trek references whenever possible. (Okay, this last one is not really a core value, but maybe a character trait?) At least the Vulcan greeting is appropriate for our times: Live long and prosper.

Dr. Howell is the new CEO for SHM as of July 1, 2020.

Recommended Reading

The future of hospital medicine
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Transitions: From editor to president
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ABIM and the future of maintaining certification
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Moving beyond the hospital ward
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Hospitalist movers and shakers – May 2020
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Presenting the 2020 SHM Award of Excellence winners
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The third surge: Are we prepared for the non-COVID crisis?
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The ‘Three Rs’ of email effectiveness
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Farewell to Larry Wellikson, MD, MHM
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Pride profile: Keshav Khanijow, MD
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