Dr. Connell (right) and his husband Dr. Jorge Alex Alvarez (left) enjoy a New England fall weekend trip
Don’t Miss a Beat recently sat down with Nathan T. Connell, MD, MPH, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s new Chief of Medicine, to learn more about him, his first impressions of his new role and his goals for his department.
I was born in Lake Wales, Florida, a small town outside Orlando. Growing up in Central Florida was a wonderful experience and I still enjoy going back to visit my family during holidays and family events. I learned to sail on the lakes, went fishing with my father and was taught by my mother to have an appreciation for art and culture. I acted in the local theatre until graduating from high school. We often visited my father’s side of the family in the summer in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as my mother’s side of the family in Miami, so I definitely got to experience a lot of differences living between two cultures.
It’s hard to pinpoint a single person or event that really guided me in this direction. I guess you could say there were many people and experiences that led to me pursuing my career in medicine, and specifically, in hematology.
My father was the administrator and CEO of our local hospital when I was growing up, so I was always around the healthcare field. I had a lot of health issues as a child and ended up spending a significant amount of time in the hospital at the University of Florida Shands Medical Center, but I was so young that I don’t remember much of it. One of my older sisters began her career in nursing while she was still living at home with us, and I think all of this came together to direct me toward a career in medicine. When I was in college, I was a resident advisor living in the dorms and my hall director, a full time university staff member, was dealing with a brain tumor. She continued to work until it took her ability to care for herself, so all of us ended up pitching together to help take care of her to maintain whatever independence she could until we couldn’t do it anymore. Both of my parents had to undergo treatment for cancer, and both are doing well today as a result of the surgeons and oncologists who cared for them.
I thought I was going to focus on oncology, but made the decision during fellowship training to refocus on blood disorders and have been very happy with my decision. I am associate director of the Boston Hemophilia Center and see patients in our adult hemophilia clinic on site at BWFH every Tuesday morning. This is a multidisciplinary clinic where patients are seen for comprehensive care including myself along with our team’s nurse practitioner, social worker and physical therapist. We also have trainees participate in the clinic to see how to work as part of a collaborative team across disciplines.
Even though the Brigham family is a much larger hospital than the one in the town I grew up in, BWFH is about the same size overall and it has a very similar feeling of community amongst the people who work here. I have been part of the BWFH family for over eight years as a hematologist and have come to love the collegial nature and mission-directed nature of the staff. We are all in this together for the common purpose of providing excellent healthcare to the people of our community. I feel that the BWFH Chief of Medicine role allows me to work with a core group of staff who are experts in their field, to focus on patient care and education in a very specific way, while accessing the resources and expertise of quaternary care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Very few clinical leadership roles have such a large focus on education, and I look forward to working with our medical students and residents as they rotate through BWFH as part of their clinical training.
I’m only a few weeks into this new role, but overall, it has been a great experience. I am very lucky to have my predecessor, Dr. Scott Schissel, just down the hall in his role as BWFH Chief Medical Officer, along with Associate Chief of Medicine Dr. Erin O’Fallon to partner with given her extensive experience with our hospitalist medicine program. Both have been working hard to bring me up to speed on key priorities and initiatives as BWFH goes through so many transitions simultaneously. One of the really exciting aspects of the role is the opportunity to serve as a bridge between the BWH Department of Medicine and our initiatives here, to ensure that we are leveraging the strengths of each institution.
In the short-term, I’m spending time meeting with leadership from each of the key constituencies within the BWFH Department of Medicine, including our subspecialty and clinical leadership chiefs, as well as meeting with colleagues from nursing, pharmacy and other specialties in the hospital. Over the next 6 to 12 months, I hope to be able to better understand all of the operational, clinical services and education issues that intersect with the Department of Medicine so we continue to provide the high quality care that our patients expect and deserve. In the long-term, I have several different goals for the Department of Medicine.
The first, and maybe the most obvious, is planning and strategizing on how to scale our clinical services to be ready for the addition of 78 new inpatient beds with all of the necessary hospitalist, APP, subspecialist and procedural support that will be needed. Additionally, I plan to evaluate how we can further develop our educational programs, not just for medical students and residents, but also subspecialty fellows as well as APPs, and support our ongoing CME programs to ensure we have a wide variety of professional development options. One area I’m excited to explore is how to enhance programming at the intersection between medicine and diversity, equity and inclusion, as it isn’t just enough to learn about the theory of these principles, but we need to work on meaningful structural change. Lastly, I want to encourage our faculty to continue academic and professional development as part of our role within the larger Brigham and Harvard Medical School families.
One of the things I love to do has been to travel. My husband (Dr. Jorge Alex Alvarez, a cardiologist here at BWFH and BWH) and I have been to many places around the world and started traveling together when we were medical students. The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed a lot of travel, but we’re looking forward to traveling a little more. The pandemic was actually a great opportunity to explore local areas that were close enough for day trips.
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