The path to leadership


It was 6 a.m. on a rainy, cold Pacific Northwest morning as I walked from my apartment to the hospital, dodging puddles and dreaming of the mediocre-yet-hot physician-lounge coffee. Another long day full of clinical and administrative tasks awaited me.

Dr. Swati Mehta, director of quality & performance and patient experience at Vituity in Emeryville, Calif., and vice chair of the SHM patient experience committee

Dr. Swati Mehta

I was 6 months’ pregnant with our first child and working my sixth 12-hour shift in a row. We had recently lost our medical director, and the C-suite had offered me the role. The day ahead seemed like an enormous mountain to climb.

I felt tired and more than a little overwhelmed. But I whispered to myself: “Today is going to be a fantastic day. I will not fail my team. I will not fail my patients!”

Physician leadership starts with a decision

The timing of this call to leadership had not been ideal. There’s probably never a perfect time to step into a medical director role. And my situation was no exception.

In addition to the baby on the way, my husband was traveling a lot for work. Also, the job of a medical director seemed a little daunting – especially to a young physician leading a team for the first time.

But I knew that leadership was my calling. While I didn’t yet have decades of experience, I had been selected as the chief resident in internal medicine, completed a nephrology fellowship, and mentored several medical students and residents along my career path.

I also knew that I was passionate about supporting my patients and hospitalist team. I’d previously served as associate medical director in charge of quality, readmission reduction, and patient experience. Having achieved the highest patient satisfaction scores on the team for 2 consecutive years, I was specially tasked to improve our team’s HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores.

These experiences taught me that coaching with positive reinforcement was in my blood. This gave me the courage to face my tallest mountain yet.

No one climbs a mountain alone

I also stepped into my new physician leadership role with amazing support. Our outgoing medical director had recommended me, and my entire team was rooting for me. My spouse was 100% behind the idea.

Dr. Mehta received a quilt as a gift from an 85-year-old patient’s wife to thank her for compassionate care Courtesy Dr. Swati Mehta

Dr. Mehta received a quilt as a gift from an 85-year-old patient’s wife to thank her for compassionate care.

What’s more, I had received amazing feedback from patients throughout my 3 years at the hospital. I had papered an entire office wall with their thank-you notes. I even had a quilt that an 85-year-old patient’s wife made to thank me for my compassionate care.

As I weighed my decision, I realized that I had a higher calling to be a true advocate for my patients. I loved what I did. Each day, I resolved to bring my best and most authentic self for them – no matter how drained I felt.

My team and patients needed me now, not at some more convenient time down the road. A medical director job was the natural next step for me. And so, I resolved to climb the mountain.


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