By Shauna Conry, MD

The experiences I was granted as a new attending were far greater than I could have ever imagined. In just a few years, I was ED medical director at French Hospital Medical Center and held clinical leadership positions at three other hospitals. I also served as Vituity’s director of palliative care.

I’m currently an assistant medical director with Palomar Health. Combine that with taking care of two kids under 5, and you’ll understand why I make a lot of lists. Without them, I’d easily forget things.

Making lists was just one of the great habits I developed as an administrative fellow at Vituity.

Back in medical school, I didn’t give leadership much thought. But then I became a chief resident, which gave me a taste of having my own vision for change and bringing it to life.

However, it was Vituity’s one-year administrative fellowship that taught me — in a very hands-on way — what it really takes to lead.

More importantly, it provided me with all the resources I needed to succeed as a leader, from shoring up my presentation skills to giving me a seat at the table at committee meetings. It was the perfect environment to network, find mentors, and in the process, find my niche.

The Fellowship Project

For me, the heart of the administrative fellowship program was the project. We were tasked with designing and implementing a new program or initiative that could be used across our partnership.

Through that project, I learned how to navigate the partnership’s committees and layers of administration in order to bring to fruition something I was deeply passionate about. It also connected me with other physicians who were equally passionate and could provide guidance and expertise.

I chose to focus on palliative care. During my residency, one of my attendings had been very involved in that discipline. She told me that the ED is one of the most appropriate environments to have a conversation about palliative care with patients. However, few ED physicians are given the tools they need to do so. It seemed like a great place to make an impact.

So with the help of various palliative care experts at Vituity, I created an integrated framework that can be used in various departments, as it encompasses emergency and inpatient care and can easily extend to the ICU as well.

It has an educational component, which consists of a workshop that goes over key phrases and scripting and offers some tools to help ED physicians and hospitalists have effective goals-of-care conversations — including ways to identify the right patients with whom to have these conversations.

We’ve also mapped out a palliative care clinical pathway that hospitals can use to steer the patient across the care continuum, from the ED to inpatient admission and discharge. For example, the pathway specifies order sets and documentation checklists for admitting providers. It also spells out things to think about when it comes to preparing the patient for discharge. For the clinician at the bedside, the pathway suggests what sorts of patients would benefit from palliative care and offers some key phrases to use in a subsequent discussion.

The work undertaken in the fellowship program is more than just a training exercise. Toward the end of my fellowship year, Vituity leaders decided that the program would be implemented at hospitals across the practice, a decision that thrilled me to no end.

It’s been really exciting to find this community of physicians and providers who are interested in palliative care and who want to better their own practice and improve on their existing skills. Moreover, we have data showing that the pathway has been instrumental in increasing the amount of palliative care referrals at some of our sites.

Out of the Fellowship and Into the Fire

After the fellowship, I stepped into an assistant medical director role at French Hospital. Initially, I became involved in various committees, such as those dedicated to critical care, credentialing, and hospital throughput. Through this work, I was able to establish relationships with administration and medical staff across the hospital.

A few years later, the opportunity arose at my site to become the medical director. I gladly stepped into the role, and it turned out to be an incredible opportunity.

My formal leadership training didn’t end with the administrative fellowship. As part of my medical director training, I attended various leadership academy sessions and was trained in Lean Six Sigma principles. Vituity understands that its physicians need robust continuing education in order to really take on these roles. Its willingness to provide such training is very unique to our partnership.

Work-Life Balance? Yes, We Can!

Vituity also understands the importance of wellness and balance, in particular that our family lives are a key part of who we are. And so, hand-in-hand with leadership training, Vituity also provides education on resilience. And it offers numerous opportunities for balance, such as sabbaticals and parental leave.

An example of that flexibility: A job opportunity for my husband required us to step away from my medical director role at French Hospital in San Luis Obispo. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to step into another fantastic Vituity administrative role at Palomar Health, where I am an ED assistant medical director. I have been incredibly lucky to have great mentors at all of my sites, like Jaime Rivas, MD, Dan Culhane, MD, Allan Hansen, MD, and Juan Reynoso, MD, who have provided me with invaluable guidance.

Taking on a leadership role isn’t easy. You have to be very mindful to carve out personal time for yourself. But in addition to giving me the chance to work on a project that has fundamentally changed the way we care for patients, Vituity’s administrative fellowship taught me to be more efficient with all of my time, because I know now how truly valuable it is. Besides, I can always make another list!

To learn more about Vituity’s leadership programs and administrative fellowships, visit the Vituity careers page.