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Hospitalist Heroes: Dr. Joanna Bonsall

March 7, 2019  |  Posted by Joanna Bonsall, MD, PhD, SFHM  |  Celebrating Physicians

This post was created in partnership with the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) in honor of the inaugural National Hospitalist Day which serves to “celebrate the fastest growing specialty in modern medicine and hospitalists’ enduring contributions to the evolving healthcare landscape.”

Dr. Joanna Bonsall is Chief of Hospital Medicine at Grady Memorial Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

When did you first know you wanted to be a doctor?

While I wish I could say I wanted to be a doctor all my life, it really stemmed from a love of biology in college, combined with a desire to have more direct interaction with people than a career in research would offer me. I went back and forth between a research career and a career in medicine and ultimately decided to train in both through an MD/PhD program. Over time, I have gravitated more towards clinical work, administration, and education and moved away from basic science research.

What initially drew you to the hospital setting?

I have always liked the acuity of inpatient medicine– both the problem solving and the immediacy of it. I like being able to help people when they’re going through rough times. The scheduling also works well for me. I have never been an 8-5, Monday-Friday person, and I like choosing how I’m going to spend time. If I want to spend more time with a patient, I can do that – it might mean a longer day for me, but there’s not a waiting room full of patients who will be delayed as a result of it.

Why was it important for you to register for the ABIM assessment for special designation in Hospital Medicine on your board certification?

The first reason that I chose this pathway was to be recognized for the work that I do as a hospitalist. But when I looked at the MOC Examination Blueprint, I found that every single topic was 100% relevant to my clinical practice.

It was very easy to see how studying for the exam would also benefit patient care in my field.

I should know everything I’m being tested on, because I am likely to see a patient with that clinical problem/situation.

In 2018, you received the Distinguished Service Award from Emory University School of Medicine for your work in staffing the Hospital Medicine direct care service at Grady Memorial Hospital. What was the most challenging aspect of this work?

Grady is a very old hospital, with an embedded culture and way of doing things that can be difficult to unpack. We couldn’t just blaze in there and do things the way we wanted to do them and be successful. I had to spend time getting to know different groups of people and understand how they did things and why. However, that has simultaneously been one of the most rewarding aspects of the job: Relationship building.

One of the other challenges has just been the logistics. Given the size of the Emergency Department and the (appropriate) ACGME-mandated caps on residency teams, when Grady is busy the overflow comes to our direct care teams. Our census can swing from 70 patients to 110 patients within two days, without any warning. It took some time to implement a robust “just in time” staffing model to be able to handle those fluctuations.

What has been the most rewarding part of the work you’ve done with SHM?

By far, it’s been getting to work with such incredibly talented and motivated people from across the country. This year on the Academic Committee has been the best year yet – the ideas that the members have brought and work that they have done has been extraordinary. We’ve continued to improve our many offerings at the annual meeting, but we’re also working on new projects, such as supporting hospitalists who are teaching in community settings, building a longitudinal mentoring program, and working with the Society of General Internal Medicine and the Association of Chief and Leaders of General Internal Medicine to create an Academic Hospital Academy 2.0 conference.

Do you have a message that you’d like to leave for physicians considering the hospitalist pathway?

Not only is the clinical work rewarding, but the career opportunities are limitless. You can pursue administration, quality improvement, research, education – anything you’re interested in. If you are fulfilled with clinical work, there are plenty of places from which to choose.

We are a field that is in demand.

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