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Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Category: health care work force (page 1 of 6)

Doctoring the CIA

One of the biggest attractions at medical meetings is the exhibition space, where publishers and companies peddle their wares and outfits looking to hire doctors sing what they hope will be a siren’s song.

The Exhibitors’ Hall at the annual American College of Physicians meeting is certainly among the most grandiose medical marketplace, if not the world’s largest. When I approach the hall, I’m always reminded of Louis Winthorp’s description of the NY Commodities Exchange to Billy Ray Valentine in the 1983 film Trading Places:

“This is it. The last bastion of pure capitalism left on earth.”

At ACP 2019 there were dozens and dozens of exhibitors, ranging from tech startups to health insurance providers. Digital stethoscopes? Check. Work for the newest telemedicine outfit? You bet. There were also journal and textbook publishers and purveyors of online medical information..

But by number, no category is larger than the recruiters — health enterprises all looking for medical personnel. Passersby definitely are made to feel needed in such a milieu.

Recruiting at ACP 2019 were hospitals, ambulatory groups, and academic practices all looking for help. There were also state, county and correctional facilities on the market for docs.

But I was surprised to see a recruiting booth from the CIA: America’s Central Intelligence Agency. It was one of the smaller booths, with but a flag, some brochures, and a lone recruiter, who by Agency policy couldn’t officially speak to me or be quoted.

So who is the Agency looking for? Primary care doctors and psychiatrists.

What does the job entail? Working abroad in embassies caring for CIA staff and their families.

Why, I wondered, if the job involves serving at U.S. embassies abroad, does the State Department not handle the recruiting?

Turns out that CIA doctors must be eligible for and able to obtain security clearances. In order to be considered, you must be physically and mentally fit, and able to pass both a background check and a polygraph test. You need to be a U.S. citizen, too.

The best of the brochures on the table dispelled 12 of the most common myths about working for the CIA: essentially, it ain’t what you see in the movies. Forget about car chases or secret gadgets.

Other brochures led with catchy slogans like, “Everything you do here matters,” or “Utilize your medical skills on the world stage.”

The CIA is not just interested in doctors. Like the real world around us, the CIA is looking for nurses (particularly with experience in occupational health), physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and clinical and research psychologists.

I asked the recruiter what a primary care doctor like me would do in the CIA. I’d once read about the CIA hiring doctors as medical analysts to render opinions on the health of world leaders. The recruiter told me that she was not charged with finding medical analysts at the ACP or her other recruiting stops–only doctors to work as medical professionals. Though with adequate experience and interest, changing roles while in the Agency is considered.

Through the conversation I learned that the CIA operates in five “directorates:”

  1. Analysis (think information gathering and synthesis);
  2. Digital Innovation (think cybersecurity and warfare);
  3. Operations (think spies–these are the folks in the famous clandestine service who handle missions and collect human intelligence);
  4. Science and Technology (think ‘tradecraft’) and lastly;
  5. the humble Directorate of Support (‘delivers everything the CIA needs to accomplish its critical mission of defending our nation.’)

Would-be CIA physicians apply for jobs in the Directorate of Support.

How much does a CIA doc earn? According to their website, the salary range is $157,000 to $164,000 per year, with ‘a progressive physician comparability allowance up to $30K per year.’

This might be the kicker, though. How young does one have to be to join up?

It might surprise you like it did me, but the recruiter said the Agency considers hiring doctors up to 60 years old!

So should you tire of domestic life and the day-to-day of clinical care here in the U.S., the CIA is an unusual way you can serve your country.


J.P. Berkazon

It was a big story: It held the news cycle for more than 24 hours, until something about some memo sucked up all our oxygen.

It was about business. And health care.

BIG businesses doing something to TRANSFORM health care.

The announcement caused the stock prices of other big companies in the ‘health care space’ to drop.

We’re still fuzzy on the WHAT.

As to the WHO: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase. The three behemoths plan to come together to form a non-profit entity to ‘disrupt’ health care.

The WHY: health care for their > 1 million combined employees (and all over the U.S.) costs too damn much.

The headlines were breathless, e.g. Forbes: “Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Could Disrupt U.S. Health Care and Capitalism as we Know It.”

Capitalism as we know it.

It’s a great story. It has compelling figures. I, like many, want to believe that it’s possible to disrupt our piecemeal, overwrought, and insanely expensive health care non-system.

Many others have tried. And failed.

Here’s a contrarian view on the big announcement from a seasoned observer. Is his skepticism warranted or can Amazon and friends do for health care what they’ve done in retail and web services?

What do you think? Can J.P. Berkazon crack the U.S.  health care nut?

@GlassHospital

“The Future, Mr. Gittes. The Future!”*

The announcement of the proposed takeover of Aetna (a health insurer) by CVS (a drugstore chain calling itself a “pharmacy innovation company”) has become a big news story. What does it mean for U.S. health care? More importantly, how will it impact us as individual patients (what some like to call “customers”)?

I don’t know.

I’m not sure anyone has clarity on this yet. We’ll have to wait and see if the deal goes through, and then how the behemoth merged company brings efficiency or monopolistic pricing to the market.

Or both.

But if you want some other visions of the health care future, think about a hospital without patients as is detailed in this article from Politico.

Mercy Virtual, which opened in 2015, calls itself “the world’s first and only facility of its kind.” The 125,000 sq. foot building houses health professionals who remotely monitor and consult for dozens of hospitals and ICUs. It’s all done telephonically, er, remotely, errr, virtually.

[Another article in that same Politico issue makes the case against hospital beds, on the basis of bed rest being counterproductive for nearly every medical condition we treat. I used to get frustrated watching people ‘decondition’ while laying around in bed. It’s a serious problem, especially in the elderly.]

Which leads directly to another future question: is the age of the virtualist upon us? Yes, as predicted in a recent JAMA column by Dr. Michael Nochomovitz, who makes the case for a medical specialty devoted to care of patients through technology.

It may be the way of the future, but it sure makes performing physical exams harder.

These times. They are a changin’.


*Chinatown. Noah Cross (played by John Huston) to private investigator J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson). 

Brigham Braces for Uncertain Future

If you’re interested in healthcare, health finance, and technology, consider adding STAT to your favorites. It’s a smart, online-only publication from the Boston Globe that features a great mix of seasoned health care journalism and many new voices (including an excellent first-person column).

This recent article by Ron Winslow (recently retired from 30+ years at the Wall St. Journal) is a great case in point:

Winslow adeptly takes readers though some of the tough decisions around budgeting at the august Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “The Brigham,” as it’s known, is a mecca for advanced specialty care, medical research, and a major affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

Teaching hospitals are complex economic engines, both bringing in and spending hundreds of millions (billions, in some markets) of dollars.

Such academic centers have long had a reliable flow of federal dollars through Medicare for patient care and resident training, as well as research grants though the National Institutes of Health.

But both of these resources are challenged as the federal budget for research and development grows ever more uncertain.

In addition, hospitals are under tremendous cost pressure (and deservedly so!) from insurers, who bargain to get beneficiaries better rates–and make the health care dollar stretch further.

Take a look a Winslow’s piece. If you’re at all interested in business, finance, economics, and/or health care, you will learn a lot about process in complex organizations. I’m guessing we will be seeing a lot more of this in the health care world.

Kudos to Winslow and STAT for a great investigative piece and to the Brigham for providing transparency into their finances and decision-making processes.

The ‘One Stop Shop’

“How can you expect patients to look after their health, when they don’t know where they will be living next week? You can not separate people’s physical health from their psychological, social and spiritual health.”

So asked community health nurse Ruth Chorley, in an article by Rachel Pugh in the Guardian.

The story reported on a local program in Oldham, one of the UK’s National Health Service districts, in which nurse specialists work to help people whose social and economic problems prevent them from managing their health.

From the story:

Chorley is a focused care practitioner – one of four employed by Hope Citadel Healthcare, a not-for-profit community interest company, to lead a pioneering approach to delivering healthcare to the most needy families in its four Greater Manchester NHS GP practices, by filling in the gaps between health and social care.

I think this small scale NHS experiment is one right way to truly improve a  community’s health.

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