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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Q&A with David Gates, M.D. Ph.D., FACP: The Hospitalist, The Medical Director

Share your career path. How did you choose to become a hospitalist?
I’m an internist and have been a physician for 25 years. I was in private practice for 16 years but found I really enjoyed my hospital work; so I chose to become a hospitalist in 2006. I joined Eagle Hospital Physicians in 2011 as a medical director. Prior to becoming a physician, I was a molecular biologist.

How is being a medical director different from being in private practice, even in doing hospital medicine?
There are some parallels between the two, but being a medical director is different in that you perform multiple functions, from the clinical to the operational. My workload is a balance between patient care, managing hospital personnel and administrative.

Why consider a career as medical director?
It’s an opportunity to advance your career—and your skills. Today, a physician must have more than excellent clinical skills. Expectations are much higher for all of us to optimize our performance with patients, peers, and hospital administrations. My role is to facilitate these pursuits for myself and those that do sign-out with me every day.

Is this role as medical director for everyone?

No, absolutely not. My experience is that we—as physicians—prefer to drive where we’re going. A medical director requires a team temperament that is part quarterback, cheerleader, and certainly, problem solver. You’ve got to engage your team, every individual. You face the tough decisions to confront personnel issues, and resolve them amicably. It’s more about listening than talking. It’s leadership and effective communications.

It sounds like this role requires a lot – is it worth it?
It does require a lot, but it also is rewarding. Any physician focused on being a medical director needs to know he or she will face difficult tasks, but not impossible ones. It’s about adaptability and finding reward in the every-day moments of seeing a patient improve, or a long-term realization that you helped a physician learn something as basic as how to build rapport with the nursing team, or even with his or her own partners.

What advice do you give to physicians—and medical residents—who are considering a hospitalist career and career path to medical director?
Engage your hospital’s leader, today. Let them know you exist and want to learn. Offer to support your existing medical director. Self-examine—know your strengths and weaknesses; emphasize your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. Seek business knowledge from ACM, SHM—even a local university.  Eagle makes it a priority to lead, train and equip physicians for this next career step.

We hear a lot about physician shortages, yet hospitals are expecting more from any physician they hire. What’s this mean for career opportunities today?
It goes back to a physician complementing their clinical excellence with strong leadership and communications skills. Eagle recognizes the importance of quality medical directors, and is opening opportunities for those who demonstrate that potential. Physicians are recognizing “what’s next,” while hospitals are searching for the quality physician-medical director. It’s win-win.

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