Reflections from PHM’s chief fellow

The education of a new generation of subspecialists


Editor’s note: The Hospitalist is excited to debut a quarterly Pediatric Hospital Medicine Fellows column with this article by pediatric hospitalist Dr. Adam Cohen.

In June 2019, I was offered the new role of chief fellow of pediatric hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, both in Houston. After messaging colleagues and friends at PHM fellowships across the country, I discovered that I wasn’t only Baylor’s first chief fellow of PHM, but I was the only chief fellow of PHM in the nation.

Dr. Adam Cohen is Chief Fellow of Pediatric Hospital Medicine (PHM) at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital

Dr. Adam Cohen

At first, this seemed to be a daunting prospect that left me wondering what my experiences would be like. However, as any good academician knows, the only way to properly answer a question with such existential considerations is a literature review.

While the role of chief fellow exists in other pediatric subspecialty fellowships, the literature on this role is not yet developed. I focused my literature review on using the chief resident role as a surrogate. The chief resident position is filled with opportunities to work administratively and educationally and even has the potential to drive interinstitutional educational change.1 However, many chief residents feel their administrative roles outweigh their educational ones.2,3 This worried me, as the administrative side of program leadership was something that I had little experience in. Would I be weighed down with answering emails and fielding grievances from other fellows? While I did occasionally have that responsibility, my experiences as a chief fellow meant being intimately involved in one program’s response and growth during a national change to PHM as a field, while also coaching those from other programs on how to respond to these many changes.

The dawn of this new era of PHM saw the first board-certified hospitalists crowned and the first fellowships accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education within the past academic year. I experienced this in a unique position as a chief fellow – an insider as part of the administration and an outsider as a prospective specialist. Prior to the recent accreditation and certification, PHM fellowship graduates were becoming successful academic physicians. A 2014 study of over 80% of all graduated PHM fellows showed nearly all had academic positions in which they taught students and residents. Many of these graduates also participated in research, with two-thirds being the first author on at least one peer-reviewed article.4

However, we also know that, prior to accreditation, fellowship training was varied, with clinical time ranging from 20% to 65%, in addition to wide variability in billing practices, scholarly practices, and the ability to pursue advanced nonclinical training, such as coursework or master’s degrees in quality improvement or education.5 With PHM fellowships becoming accredited and hospitalists becoming board certified, this is going to change, hopefully for the better.

National accrediting bodies like the ACGME create standards for programs to follow, but as a field we have to make sure we know what those standards mean for our future fellows and our educators. At my own program, these standards meant a significant reduction in clinical time, which was the main way fellows obtained content mastery in PHM. There were also concerns from practicing hospitalists about what it would mean if they did not or could not “grandfather in” to board certification. Would they be pushed out of their jobs or forced into less desirable ones? Would they be able to continue teaching and working with fellows?

As I reflect on experiencing this tumultuous time of change for our specialty, my main takeaway is that board certification of PHM faculty and accreditation of fellowships is an important step to creating the next generation of productive academic hospitalists. The greatest benefit for PHM fellows is that ACGME accreditation mandates that they be treated as learners, and not just junior attendings who are paid less. Many programs rely on fellow billing to fund fellowships, which can create a culture where the focus falls away from exploring a wide variety of educational opportunities and toward an exclusive or near-exclusive service-learning model.

This old model can come at the expense of opportunities such as conferences or secondary degrees. Under ACGME accreditation, fellowships will also be required to provide a regimented system of mentorship and support, more than just nonclinical time, to allow fellows to follow their interests and passions, whether that be in clinical hospital medicine, education, quality, advocacy or more. When these fellows graduate and become board certified, they will truly have recognition as specialists in the field, and be able to advance the field in any setting they choose to practice.

Like any change, this shift in our field also comes with our fair share of risks. Fellowship programs have to be careful about what they take away from an accreditation process that can be incredibly time-consuming and difficult. Leadership at these programs need to look critically at the changes they are required to make, and ensure they are integrated intelligently in a way that benefits the fellows.

At Baylor, while a decrease in clinical time was required, our leadership saw it as an opportunity to implement active learning and assessment techniques to improve clinical mastery with less clinical time. While many programs may need to make significant changes to align with ACGME standards, a key lesson in education is that these changes also need to reflect the goal of the program, to create expert academicians, clinicians, and leaders in PHM.

One of the largest challenges brought about by these changes is how we take into account pediatric hospitalists with clinical expertise who either are not academically oriented or are not eligible for board certification. Excluding them from participating in fellowship training or as productive members of our groups can create a hidden curriculum that board certification and academic practice are the only way forward in our field. We also risk excluding those with the ability to fill the largest need in our specialty, those who practice clinically in the community.6

We must ensure that our desire to have productive academic faculty does not result in the loss of those with clinical expertise, both for the care of our patients and the education of our learners. Whether that solution lies with alternative certification procedures or through thoughtful hiring and educational policies is yet to be seen.

Overall, as PHM’s chief fellow this past academic year, I found that we have a lot to be excited for as our field continues to grow. With this growth, we need be careful about how we move forward with the standardization of our training, education, and faculty practices to align with our core values of excellent care for children and advancement of our field to meet their needs and the needs of our medical system. I am grateful to the many PHM leaders and providers who have thoughtfully stimulated so much growth in the field and paved the way for current and future generations of fellows to benefit from that growth.

Dr. Cohen is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. He graduated from PHM fellowship in June 2020 at Baylor, dedicating himself to developing expertise in medical education. He would like to thank Dr. Michelle Lopez for her assistance in revising this article.


1. Myers RE et al. Pediatric chief resident exchange program: A novel method to share educational ideas across training programs. Acad Pediatr. 2019. doi: S1876-2859(19)30386-9.

2. Norris T et al. Do program directors and their chief residents view the role of chief resident similarly? Family Medicine. 1996;28(5):343-5.

3. Dabrow SM et al. Two perspectives on the educational and administrative roles of the pediatric chief resident. J Grad Med Educ. 2011;3(1):17-20.

4. Oshimura JM et al. Current roles and perceived needs of pediatric hospital medicine fellowship graduates. Hosp Pediatr. 2016;6(10):633-7.

5. Shah NH et al. The current state of pediatric hospital medicine fellowships: A survey of program directors. J Hosp Med. 2016;11(5):324-8.

6. Leyenaar JK et al. Epidemiology of pediatric hospitalizations at general hospitals and freestanding children’s hospitals in the United States. J Hosp Med. 2016;11(11):743-9.

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