Clinician with Distinction

Duvuru Geetha, M.D., just got promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, and we’re extra happy to tell you about this because of the main reason her hard work was recognized by the Hopkins promotion committee: It’s not because she had huge grants or a big research lab.

It’s because she is a great doctor.

This is what we hoped for, way back in 2006 when philanthropist Mrs. Anne Miller first asked CIM founder David Hellmann, M.D., why there weren’t more great clinicians – a question that led to many important ventures, including the Miller-Coulson Academy for Clinical Excellence, which is changing the way clinicians are recognized and rewarded at academic medical institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Geetha was inducted to the Academy in 2010, after submitting a comprehensive clinical portfolio – meticulously designed to measure the performance and contributions of the academic clinician (you can read more about it at that included feedback from colleagues in medicine and nursing, by her patients, and by students, residents and fellows whom she has taught and mentored. Although it’s impossible to truly measure intangible factors like clinical acumen and caring – and the ability to teach other doctors to care about the patient – the portfolio comes very close.

“I think, what would I do if it were my own family?”

Over the last few years, Academy members have been working with Hopkins to develop a new track for promotion, called “Clinician With Distinction.” It is tailor-made for super-clinicians like Geetha; with her application, she included the hefty portfolio, which clearly impressed the committee.

“I did not know that this pathway even existed,” says Geetha. But having already gone through the rigorous application process for the Academy made it much easier to show Hopkins what her career was all about: “That portfolio proves that your focus is on clinical patient care; that’s your expertise – how you take care of patients, how you can be their advocate and at the same time have them take control of their disease and partner with them. There are components of the portfolio that measure your academic accomplishments like publications and presentations at national conferences. The application process also includes feedback from colleagues, trainees, and patients who recognize you as an excellent clinician, who can see that you think outside the box and are going above and beyond to provide the best care for them, and that you really are an expert.”

“They’re here to see me, not just watch me looking at the computer.”

Some of the feedback came from patients who have been in her care for 20 years. One said, “I would have died five years ago,” if not for Geetha’s expert care. Another has moved to Texas, but still comes back to Geetha for medical care. Geetha, a nephrologist, specializes in vasculitis, an autoimmune disease in which inflammation attacks blood vessels, and the kidneys can be hit hard by it. This means that she sees many of her patients, and their families, several times a year, and it’s the aspect of her specialty that she enjoys the most.

“The longitudinal relationships are very meaningful,” she says. “I view the patient as if I’m taking care of a family member, and if I have a difficult decision to make because there are so many options, I think, ‘what would I do if it were my own family?’” Geetha does her best to be accessible to her patients, and often gives her pager and cell numbers so they can reach her if need be. “I want to be available to them, and not just say, ‘see me in two or three months for a 30-minute appointment.’”

When Geetha got to read all the comments on her clinical work, although she was trying to do her best to take care of her patients, and to teach young doctors to be caring clinicians, “It actually felt quite good. When people feel they’ve been helped by you, that you made a difference in their life, for the trainees to say, ‘This is the kind of physician I want to be,’ to be the go-to person for this type of a problem – that’s the biggest satisfaction you can get.”

A brand-new pathway for promotion is tailor-made for super-clinicians.

Geetha also hopes to teach the next generation of physicians – most of whom have learned medicine in an age of electronic medical records and less time for personal interaction with the patient than ever before – to take a little extra time just to talk and connect to patients. “That personal touch is going away in many places,” she says. Before she walks into the room to see a patient, she reviews all the notes and charts ahead of time. Then, for the first few minutes of the visit, “I just sit face to face, making eye contact, and talking about what’s been going on. They’re here to see me, not just watch me looking at the computer.”