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Celebrating Doctors’ Day at HMA

March 30th is Doctors’ Day, and for most physicians that means a special lunch in the hospital cafeteria or a carnation on their white coat. But a few years ago, I hung up my white coat and made the transition to healthcare consulting. The questions immediately started. Won’t you miss seeing patients? What exactly will you do? Did you lose your license? That last one is my favorite. So what exactly is a doctor like me doing in a place like this?

As most of our readers know, HMA was founded by a visionary group of individuals who fostered innovation in government systems that managed healthcare. Over the years the company has grown to include colleagues who represent nearly every facet of the healthcare environment, including direct clinical services. This evolution parallels the movement in our country toward models of integrated healthcare, whole person care, and team-based approaches to help organizations successfully embrace the triple aim. Our clinicians are embedded in a much larger cadre of HMA policy wonks, healthcare administrators, IT wizards, past government officials and health plan executives, community strategists and entrepreneurs with backgrounds in foundations, advocacy groups, industry and the private healthcare sector.

I have the privilege of serving on this team of clinicians who have accumulated vast experience and remarkable accomplishments over their careers. They represent diverse clinical backgrounds across the healthcare spectrum. The HMA Clinical Services team is comprised of physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, and behavioral health providers. The physicians are trained in internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, geriatrics, cardiology and palliative care, and many of them continue to provide direct patient care in concert with their consulting work. We represent hundreds of years of clinical experience across a vast array of healthcare settings including private practice, academic medicine, Federally Qualified Health Centers, large and small provider groups, Indian Health Services, migrant clinics, and correctional medicine as well as medical director roles at health plans, health departments and teaching programs.

My clinician peers form an illustrious group of doctors dedicated to the best in healthcare delivery. They are creative problem solvers and a fun group of people who have seen it all. For example, I will never forget the day I spent with Dr. Jack Raba at Cook County Jail. For 17 years, he was the medical director at the largest medical/mental health correctional facility in the United States. As we walked through the halls, I was impressed with his warmth and familiarity with the staff, the patients, and the most subtle strengths and challenges in the system of care. Dr. Raba’s impressive leadership was captivating, and it was during that walk that I fully understood the power of an experienced consultant who can bring that depth of system knowledge to other clients struggling with similar challenges. Dr. Raba has been instrumental in HMA establishing a multi-disciplinary team that works across the correctional space helping clients impact policy and improve both physical and mental healthcare.

Another example of a remarkable physician-consultant is Dr. Art Jones, who leads some of the most innovative delivery system reforms in a safety net Accountable Care Organization just outside of Chicago. How did Dr. Jones grow his wisdom and experience?  He followed his calling to work as a young physician at the most grassroots level. Together with the local community, he focused his efforts to address the healthcare shortage in the area, and he helped build a clinic in the underserved neighborhood of Lawndale where no clinic existed before. He ultimately went on to direct the clinic for many years, and he continues to help them navigate current changes in the healthcare system. The healthcare center continues to be a beacon of healing and services for a wide array of patients who previously had no access to care.

Dr. Raba and Dr. Jones are but two examples of the healthcare superheroes that comprise our physician team and who we celebrate on Doctors’ Day. They would tell you that having shifted their work focus from direct clinical care in clinics and at bedsides to intervening with larger systems, is powerfully gratifying, and through this work, they continue to impact the health and healthcare access for vulnerable and safety net communities.

HMA has discovered the key perspective that physicians and clinicians can bring to projects of team-based care, physician leadership, care management workflows and team communication, just to name a few. HMA’s Clinical Services team offers on-the-ground support, which in consultant lingo is called “technical assistance.” It’s beyond the see one, do one, teach one mentality we learned in medical training. Now we dedicate our best listening skills and necessary time investment to better understand our client’s issues and challenges and individualize their roadmap to achieving their goals. For me, this is meaningful, gratifying, and – hopefully – impactful work. I know my fellow clinician colleagues all agree on this point.

Yes, I miss seeing patients, shepherding them through bad news, and celebrating their moments of joy and healing. As it turns out, this work is very similar, with the shift of focus from a patient or individual to a clinic, hospital, or system. When I help an organization improve how they provide care to all of their patients, I know that I made the right choice in leaving my white coat behind. I don’t feel like I’ve abandoned my patients, instead I feel like I help them in a very different way. So here’s to Doctors’ Day at HMA. Now I’m pinning on my carnation, and heading off in search of my free lunch!

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