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A Clinician’s Perspective: Work & Life as a Medical Director in CT

What’s it like to work as a TeamHealth physician in the northeastern U.S.?

TeamHealth named its 2019 Dr. Gar LaSalle Medical Directors of the Year and Advanced Practice Clinician of the Year at our National Medical Leadership Conference (NMLC) held this year in Dallas, Texas.

These leaders were honored for providing high-quality care to patients, exemplary service to our hospital and post-acute partners and for outstanding leadership of their clinical teams. One of those recognized was Dr. Ije Akunyili, MD, the facility medical director at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut.

During NMLC, we sat down with Dr. Akunyili to talk about working with TeamHealth, her journey to becoming a physician and who and what inspires her most.

Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Akunyili:  It’s an exciting story. I actually started my career at the World Bank working on health and economic policies for the worlds’ poorest countries after a master’s in Public Administration and International Development. Growing up in Nigeria, my dad was a doctor and ran a small emergency department for many years. I kind of rebelled as a college kid and as a teenager, and I did not want to be a doctor. Then somewhere in my first two years at the World Bank, I realized I wanted to make more of a difference and I missed having a hands-on approach to people. While I tried to solve those big world problems at the Bank, I just wanted to help one person at a time, so, I went back to medical school as a second career.

What do you love most about practicing medicine?

Dr. Akunyili:  I love everything about practicing emergency medicine. I love the people, I love the stories, I like the sounds, the chaos, the adrenaline, the constant union of operations and medicine and not knowing what’s going to come next. I like taking care of people in their most vulnerable states. I love physiology and science, and to listen to people’s stories, so there’s no greater privilege than to be an emergency medicine physician. I wake up every day thinking I’m the luckiest person in the world.

What have been the most challenging parts for you of being a doctor?

Dr. Akunyili: The most significant challenge for being an emergency medicine physician, especially as the years evolve and we have fewer safety nets in our society for mental health patients, our aging population, is that we have to do more with less. We have fewer resources for our most vulnerable patients, and they end up in the emergency department.

Is there someone who has inspired you along the way, got you to where you are?

Dr. Akunyili: A lot of people point to my dad because he’s a physician, but my true mentor actually is my mom. My mom, who passed away five years ago, was a pharmacologist, and she went back for her Ph.D. with four kids in tow. That was in and of itself, something earth-shattering. Here she was, a young woman in southeast Nigeria in the eighties where women did not get Ph.D.’s, and she was determined to go back to graduate school. Everyone said that was impossible, but she became the first woman to get a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Nigeria and lectured in medical schools for many years before going on to reform the Food and Drug Agency of Nigeria. She is probably the most brilliant person I’ve ever met.

What advice would you share with a young physician who is just getting started?

Dr. Akunyili:  I would say pace yourself. When I first started emergency medicine, I didn’t quite understand how easy it was to burn out, and I did. To come out on the other side and to be the physician I am today is a testament to my family. It’s too easy, especially for young millennials, to jump in and work 20 shifts a month, then not pay attention to self-care. I would say, please take care of yourself.

What does being a TeamHealth physician mean to you?

Dr. Akunyili:  Being a TeamHealth physician is liberating. It’s just the ability to practice medicine without worrying about how much you’re going to make and where you’re going to get your CMEs from. TeamHealth provides a degree of operational and back-end support that is unparalleled in the industry and the support of a nationwide community of excellent clinicians.

We have open opportunities in emergency medicine and hospital medicine across the northeast! Join a team that supports you and recognizes your impact in providing excellent patient care. Not the right fit for you? TeamHealth has opportunities available nationwide!

And check out this video where Dr. Akunyili talks about the culture at TeamHealth and working in the northeast!