Dr. Ted Eytan is a Family Medicine physician and a Director at Kaiser Permanente for the Permanente Federation. His work is based at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health. In this interview, we chatted about the importance of telling people what you’re looking for in a career, why living in the right city makes a huge difference in your life and in your career, and how Kaiser Permanente is working to catalyze innovation in healthcare with their Center for Total Health. Read his eponymous blog here.
Where did you go to med school? What interested you about medicine?
I’m from Arizona and I went to the University of Arizona Medical School. I wanted to be a family doctor at the beginning and I wanted to be one when I finished medical school, so during my medical school years, I wanted to see how versatile my career could be. I took a year between my third and fourth years and went to UC Berkley to get an MPH. It was the perfect time in my career to discover the world of public health. After that, I graduated medical school, did my residency in Family Medicine, and then I went into fellowship at the University of Washington for two years.
What kind of fellowship did you do?
I did the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program. The cool thing about that is that you don’t have to be any kind of speciality. So I can use it to work with people who have trained in different ways. I did it in Seattle which I don’t think is a site anymore but the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is amazing. They have the best thinkers, access to the best people. They taught me leadership and how to work in the community.
Why did you want to become a doctor in the first place?
You know it’s funny that you say that because just yesterday, a colleague of mine asked about my fellowship personal statement. So I pulled out my personal statement from my fellowship 12 years ago out. I read it and realized I’m actually doing now what I wrote about. I wrote that I wanted to be solving problems for patients and communities. When I think about what I am doing now, I am a family doctor and I help solve society’s health problems in America.
What did you do after the fellowship?
I did the fellowship and got my first job. My first job was very non-traditional. A lot of people who did my kind of fellowship stayed back in the university to do research. I got a job in IT. I was really interested in doctors working with patients online so I worked at a non profit health system, Group Health Cooperative of Washington State. I was one of the first doctors hired in that kind of role so I had to make up work for me and for them. We did a lot of great work together. I was there for 8 years.
How did you know that a job like that would be available to you after fellowship?
I didn’t. This is what happens in life – I just called someone who was working on a project and I asked if there was anything available there that I might be interested in. She talked to someone, who talked to someone. Eventually they got back to me that there was something available and we got together to see if it was a fit.
We all go through medial school, and it’s a lot of training and a lot of work. When you are all done, you wonder who is going to hire you. It’s hard because it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to and sometimes people are not banging down the door to find you. What I would suggest is: you just have to keep letting people know this is what I am interested in. You may tell 100 people and one person will get back to you with what might be your dream job.
Also, treat every person you work with as someone who could potentially help get you to that next step in your life. You just never know. We have all known people who didn’t treat us the way we wanted to be treated. But always remember, all of the people you work with and no matter what level they are at, they could actually make your career. They could make it wonderful. So treat everyone with compassion, it will definitely come back to you.
Can you talk a little bit more about what you did at this first job, for 8 years?
For 8 years was this exciting idea that no one had thought of before. It was all about patients emailing their doctor. No one thought it could be done and no one thought it would work. My job was to help 800 doctors in a non-profit health system get up to speed on email technology with their patients. It was basically making our health system more accessible to people online.
On a daily basis, what kind of work were you doing? Were you applying your clinical knowledge and how developers would be building the technology? How did your healthcare training help you in this job?
I thought they are going to want my clinical expertise and make sure everything is accurate. But it turned out that one of the most important things a doctor can do is lead change. For many people, changing the way you do things can be hard. It turns out one of the best things about doctors is that they listen to other doctors.
At the beginning they were sending me to all the medical enters and I was speaking to the doctors. The doctors were really excited about the future, the prospect of emailing patients and communicating with technology. I remember saying to my bosses, are you sure this is what you want me to be doing? It’s really fun but I want to make sure this is valuable to the company. They said this is very valuable, keep doing it. I didn’t realize until six months later that it really did make a difference.
What did you do after 8 years at the Group Health Cooperative of Washington State?
My position eventually became the Medical Director of Informatics. I was doing more than talking then, I was helping set direction. The clinician part was important, but the judgment part was more important. It helped to know what the doctors needed to be successful. After this job, I took a year off again. I did a sabbatical in Washington D.C. around understanding the use of health records for underserved people for a year. Then, I got the job that I have now, with Kaiser Permanente.
How did they find you or how did you find them?
I had gone through leadership training through Kaiser Permanente when I was at the Group Health Cooperative and I met with the CEO of the company I am in now. He brought me in and we talked. It looked like a good fit so he hired me.
You make it sound so easy.
I think you need to believe that it will always work out. The right opportunity will come to you. There was a year during which I didn’t have a job. I had a great job that I left and I wanted to live in Washington D.C. I just said you know what, I am going to find something once I get there, and it’s going to be great.
Was there a reason that you were you looking to do something different after Group Health Cooperative? Why did you decide to change jobs?
It was literally the best job in the world, no question about it. I wanted to live in Washington D.C. I didn’t move for a person or for money. I moved because the cities are so different. When people come to me and they say I am looking for a job, the first question I ask is: where do you want to live? The world is not flat, where you live has a huge impact on everything in your life. The people you see in the morning, where you walk down the street, it’s everything. I think it’s important to not have the best job but live in a great city than not to have both. For me, where you live is the most important thing.
You’re right, the right city makes a huge difference.
It’s not just about how easy it is to live, it’s the kind of people who live there. If you are an innovative person and you really like to do things on your own, then California is great. If you are social and want to work with big groups of people, and you want to be near the center of government, then D.C. is great. If you are not here, then you can’t simulate it. You can’t simulate it by being in Chicago.
It’s very true, that is very good advice. Speaking of Washington D.C., can you talk a little bit about what the Center For Total Health is?
The Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health is in Washington D.C, and it is relatively unique in healthcare. It’s a place to talk about health. People from all over the world and all over the country can come here and have conversations and interact with high-tech displays and devices. People can get inspired about health as something greater than just healthcare or medical care.
What the mission of the center? Who is the center for?
The center is for people who are trying to change health and healthcare. There are not a lot of places for you to go and just have a conversation about your ideas, your innovations, to share innovation, to learn innovation, to meet people not like you. Often healthcare can be very onto itself; it doesn’t really interact with other industries that we can teach and learn from. It’s high tech but it’s a very neutral environment. Our large video touch panel is one of the biggest in the world.
Do you guys change the display on the large panel on a monthly basis or does that just stay with one exhibit? How does that work?
Well it’s extremely interactive so it’s hard to actually get through all of it in one run. It’s very technically complicated so that one hasn’t changed for a year. We are also adding some augmented reality to one of the rooms.
So would the center be more geared towards providers and healthcare professional than medical students?
There are also community leaders, national leaders, business leaders. There is a lot more to changing healthcare than doctors and nurses who want to improve the health of Americans. Large employers want their workforces to be healthy and this is a place for them to come learn about what we are doing and what are the best innovations. They’re not medical professionals but we can bring that exposure to them.
How did you get involved with this?
I work for the medical groups of Kaiser Permanente. There are 9 of them across the countrywhen you include Group Health Physicians. My organization supports them and helps them to succeed. This facility was opened up about a year and a half ago and so there was an opportunity. The thing about Kaiser Permanente that makes it so great is that it is run by physicians and non-physicians together in partnership. So in the name, Kaiser Permanente, Kaiser is the business side of healthcare and the health plan. They finance the care;. Permanente are the physicians. Everything is in partnership; our medical offices are run by physicians and non physicians or business leaders and medical leaders together. We complement each other and that’s why we are successful.
Can you tell me a little bit about your job as the Physician Director of the Center for Total Health? What do you do on an average day?
This is a facility almost like a medical office. I have a partner who is the Executive Director and we plan the operation of the facility.. We are like ambassadors. There are 17,000 doctors here at Kaiser Permanente, so we help bring those doctors’ work forward. All 17,000 physicians are doing amazing things; they are all doing new things every day. Our mission is to find those things and bring them to other people so they can learn.
Do you have speakers come into the center? What sort of events do you put on?
Yes we do. Last week we did corporate recess for an hour, where we learn play in the work environment.. We have large events with speakers, we have code-a-thons where people come and write apps. We have small discussions with bloggers. Basically anything that anyone is interested in to learn about health, we will do. What we don’t do very well is PowerPoint slides. We are trying to create a no PowerPoint zone. It’s very cool because in the way the space is laid out, it’s hard to do PowerPoint. People want to learn by talking to each other. We network them to each other and we network them to Kaiser Permanente and we network them to the rest of healthcare.
It sounds like it is a commutation hub. Is there anything else like this in the world? I don’t think I have heard of anything like this before.
There are other centers like it. We have a sibling center in Oakland, California called the Garfield Center, which is online. UPMC in Pittsburgh has a Center for Connected Medicine. The Center for Connected Care, which is a little bit similar to ours. So there is a few of them.
Just to finish up, I want to mention how much I like your open-minded statements about medical school. Because you’re right, most people don’t quite see the medical world like that, about exploring the variety of opportunities that can come to you should you be looking for them.
They should. If people have those questions, they should find a mentor. Also, explore different areas. I went to public health school and found this other pathway that was so exciting to me. Once you see that it can happen, everything falls into place from that.