The Path to Leadership: How One Hospitalist Wrote Her Own Story

From new attending to leading expert on patient experience, Swati Mehta, MD, shares the lessons from her career journey.

Originally published 2/4/2020. Updated 7/20/22.

Swati Mehta, MD

Swati Mehta , MD, FACP, SFHM, CPXP

Director of Quality and Performance

Published February 04, 2020

Swati Mehta, MD, Director of Quality and Performance at Vituity

It was 6 a.m. on a rainy, cold Pacific Northwest morning as I walked from my apartment to the hospital, dodging puddles and dreaming of the mediocre-yet-hot physician-lounge coffee. Another long day full of clinical and administrative tasks awaited me.

I was six-months pregnant with our first child and working my sixth 12-hour shift in a row. Our hospitalist team had recently lost our medical director, and the C-suite had offered me the role. The day ahead seemed like an enormous mountain to climb.

I felt tired and more than a little overwhelmed. But I whispered to myself, “Today is going to be a fantastic day. I will not fail my team. I will not fail my patients!”

Physician leadership starts with a decision

The timing of this call to leadership had not been ideal. There’s probably never a perfect time to step into a medical director job. And my situation was no exception.

In addition to the baby on the way, my husband was traveling a lot for work. Also, the job of a medical director seemed a little daunting—especially to a young physician leading a team for the first time.

But I knew that leadership was my calling. While I didn’t yet have decades of experience, I had been selected as the chief resident in internal medicine, completed a nephrology fellowship, and mentored several medical students and residents along my career path.

I also knew that I was passionate about supporting my patients and hospitalist team. I’d previously served as associate medical director in charge of quality, readmission reduction, and patient experience. Having achieved the highest patient satisfaction scores on the team for two consecutive years, I was specially tasked to improve our team’s HCAHPS scores.

These experiences taught me that coaching with positive reinforcement was in my blood. This gave me the courage to face my tallest mountain yet.

No one climbs a mountain alone

I also stepped into my new physician leadership role with amazing support. Our outgoing medical director had recommended me, and my entire team was rooting for me. My spouse was one hundred percent behind the idea.

What’s more, I had received amazing feedback from patients throughout my three years at the hospital. I had papered an entire office wall with their thank-you notes. I even had a quilt that an 85-year-old patient’s wife made to thank me for my compassionate care.

patient gift to physician quilt image

As I weighed my decision, I realized that I had a higher calling to be a true advocate for my patients. I loved what I did. Each day, I resolved to bring my best and most authentic self for them—no matter how drained I felt.

My team and patients needed me now, not at some more convenient time down the road. A medical director job was the natural next step for me. And so I resolved to climb the mountain.

Climbing through storms

Stepping into a medical director job forced me to grow into a completely new person. So maybe starting that role during pregnancy was a great metaphor!

Each day, there was immense pressure to perform, to deliver quality outcomes, and to simultaneously meet expectations of the C-suite as well as my hospitalist team. There was no room for failure, because too much was at stake.

But looking back today, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The medical director role was one of the most gratifying experiences in my life, and I am truly thankful for it.

A leader’s role truly boils down to working tirelessly to collaborate with different care teams. It’s important to care not only about our patients but also about our fellow hospitalists. We can do this by truly leading by example—be it picking up extra shifts, covering holidays so team members can be with family, or coming in at 10 p.m. to round with your night team.

I was also able to bring a unique perspective to the hospital C-suite meetings as a woman, an immigrant, and a true “mama bear”—not only of my infant son but also of my team.

My first year as a medical director required more commitment and heart than I could have imagined. But all this hard work paid off when our hospitalist group received the coveted Best Team Award for most improved quality outcomes, financial performance, and patient experience.

2016 Team Award Adult Hospitalists Salem Health an OHSU Partner

The summit is the beginning

My first medical director job fueled my passion for patient satisfaction even further. I now serve as the director of patient experience for the more than 5,000 clinicians at Vituity. Together we care for more than 8 million lives a year across the country. It’s such an honor to be instrumental in impacting patient care at a larger scale.

I was recently invited to serve as chair of the Patient Experience Executive Council for the Society for Hospital Medicine’s Patient Experience Committee. I am so excited to share my knowledge and passion with clinicians across the country.

Your mountain is waiting

Many hospitalists shy away from leadership roles. The mountain is tough to scale, but the view from the top is worth it. The key is to start, even if you don’t feel ready. I am here to tell you it can be done!


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