Editor’s note: This profile is part of SHM’s celebration of National Hospitalist Day on March 4. National Hospitalist Day occurs the first Thursday in March annually, and celebrates the fastest growing specialty in modern medicine and hospitalists’ enduring contributions to the evolving health care landscape.
Grace C. Huang, MD, is a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.
Dr. Huang currently serves as vice chair for career development and mentoring in the department of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess as well as director of the Office of Academic Careers and Faculty Development, and codirector of the Beth Israel Deaconess Academy of Medical Educators. She is also director of the Rabkin Fellowship in Medical Education, a program for Harvard Medical School faculty designed to help develop the skills needed to launch or advance academic careers in medical education or academic leadership.
Additionally, Dr. Huang is the editor in chief of MedEdPORTAL, a MEDLINE-indexed, open-access journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
At what point in your training did you decide to practice hospital medicine, and what about it appealed to you?
I trained at a point in time where it was rare for people to aspire to go in to hospital medicine. It just wasn’t that common, and there were so few examples of what a career trajectory in hospital medicine would look like. So I don’t know that I actively chose to go into hospital medicine; I chose it because it was what I knew how to do, based on my residency experience.
But it is really easy and authentic for me now to share about what makes hospital medicine such a vibrant career choice. I’m doing a lot of things in my job other than hospital medicine, but when I am on service, it reminds me acutely what it means to stay connected to why I became a doctor. The practice of hospital medicine means to be there at the most intense time of many people’s lives, to shoulder the responsibility of knowing that what I say to my patients will be remembered forever, and to be challenged by some of medicine’s hardest problems.
Hospital medicine has a way of putting you at the nexus of individual, family, society, government, and planet. But it also means that, even while I am witness to disease, suffering, broken relationships, social injustice, and environmental issues, I get a privileged look at what it means to comfort, to identify what really matters to people, to understand what gives us dignity as human beings. Lastly, I always come back to the fact that working as a team has made my clinical job so much more enriching; it’s not trench warfare, but you do create bonds quickly with learners, colleagues, and other health professionals in such an intense, fast-paced environment.
What is your current role at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center?
At Beth Israel Deaconess, I’m holding four different jobs. It’s sometimes hard for me to keep track of them, but they all center on career and faculty development. I’m a vice chair for career development within the department of medicine, and I also have an institutional role for faculty development for clinicians, educators, and researchers. I provide academic promotion support for the faculty, provide ad hoc mentorship, and run professional development programming. I also direct a year-long medical education fellowship. On the side, I am the editor in chief for a medical education journal.
What are your favorite areas of clinical practice and research?
Being a generalist means I love a lot of areas of clinical practice. I’m not sure there’s a particular area that I enjoy more than others. I love teaching specific topics – antibiotics, pharmacology, direct oral anticoagulants, the microbiology of common infections. I love thinking about how the heart and kidney battle for dominance each day and being the mediator. I have a particular interest in high-value care and lab ordering (or the fact that we should do much less of it). I love complex diagnostic problems and mapping them out on paper for my team.
The research that I’ve been doing over the past 20 years has focused on how we train internists and internists-to-be to do bedside procedures. It stemmed from my own ineptitude in doing procedures, and it caused me to question the age-old approach we took in sticking needles into patients without standardized training, supervision, or safety measures.
I’ve been proud of the small role I’ve been able to play in influencing how residents are taught to do procedures, and now I’m working with others to focus on how we should teach procedures to hospitalists, who don’t do procedures on a regular basis, and aren’t under the same expectations for ongoing skill development.
What are the most challenging aspects of practicing hospital medicine, and what are the most rewarding?
The intensity is probably what’s hardest for me about hospital medicine. At this point in my career, if I’m on service for a week, it takes me just as long to recover. It’s the cognitive load of needing to keep track of details that can make a big difference, the rapidity at which patients can deteriorate, the need to change course in an instant because of new information, and wanting to be mentally present and available for my patients and my learners.
It’s also hard to see suffering up close and personal and to leave feeling helpless to change the course of severe illness or to optimize care within the constraints of the health care system. This is why I do – and have to – extract satisfaction from the smallest of wins and brief moments of connection. Like seeing a patient turn the corner after being on the brink. Or gaining trust from an initially upset family member. Getting a copy of the eulogy from the daughter of my patient. A phone call from a patient I cared for 18 months ago, thanking me for my care. Visiting patients in the hospital socially that I had gotten to know over the years.