The following was originally posted at Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.
Teams should work together, not compete
I am an Antimicrobial Stewardship Leader. As the Associate Medical Director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at my institution, I work with another physician (Antimicrobial Stewardship Medical Director) and an ID-trained Antimicrobial Stewardship PharmD. We have a great setup, share audit and feedback responsibilities, and have different interests clinically and for research, which makes it great to divide tasks for initiatives. I focus on outpatient ASP and SSI prophylaxis, PharmD on AU initiatives and cost, and other MD on CDI. We cover for each other, review and co-author each other’s grants, papers and presentations, and present education to various hospital groups together. We work well as a TEAM.
Teams are great things. Nothing meaningful can be accomplished when working alone and in silos. Some ASP teams also include nurses, infection preventionists, advanced practice providers and laboratory personnel, and the specific ASP leadership model will depend on the resources at an individual hospital. Each of these groups bring a very specific and unique skillset to the ASP team. Why is it then, that we seem to find ourselves in the midst of an MD-PharmD power struggle?
In February 2018, the IDSA, SHEA and PIDS released a statement that ID physicians should be leading the way in Antimicrobial Stewardship. This statement shared the unique skillset that ID doctors bring to the ASP table, including years of clinical training in the diagnosis and management of infections. This position paper reads as a statement of support from our societies demonstrating our value to hospital leadership. “Hey C-suite, we have these requirements for ASP, and it says you need a leader that has ID expertise. We literally went to school for ID, and we already work for you, so here are these reasons why you should actually PAY us for what we know how to do well, instead of asking us to do it for free while we are on hospital consults?” The position paper did not say, “ID physicians are better than Pharmacists at ASP”. In fact, the document went on to state, “An ASP should also include at least 1 pharmacist, ideally with subspecialty training in ID. While ID physicians and pharmacists may often have the most central roles in an ASP, all members of the ASP team, including microbiologists and infection preventionists, provide distinct skills of great value.”
Notwithstanding the explicit acknowledgement of the value of the team model of ASP, perhaps the conclusion “ID physicians are well equipped to lead multidisciplinary ASPs given their training, expertise, and experience” offended some of our pharmacist colleagues. The publication was followed by a letter to the editor in May 2018 that stated, “In identifying ID physicians as uniquely qualified for these functions, the paper fails to acknowledge the essential leadership and skill set of ID pharmacists in stewardship”. The letter then concludes, “Best care for patients is achieved through multi-disciplinary stewardship where pharmacist leaders are key to success”. This letter led to a flurry of social media posts misguidedly comparing the “value” of ASP physicians vs pharmacists. A real world study of ID fellow experiences with ASP shared that fellows looked to “pharmacists, not ID physician leaders as primary resources for antibiotic teaching”, and there was a social media frenzy that pharmacists should lead ASP, not ID physicians.
People, this is not a competition! Pharmacists are uniquely equipped to lead ASP because of their special training in the PK/PD of antibiotics, adverse drug effects, drug-drug interactions, and costs. ID physicians are uniquely equipped to lead ASP because of their special training in direct patient care, being boots on the ground as well as eyes in the sky, and can always use the “peer” card when approaching rogue prescribers. The thing is, we are BOTH essential for a successful ASP, and organizations should strive to fund BOTH, because we complement each other. The thing is, we ID physicians have had a long struggle for institutional acknowledgement and respect of our invaluable contribution to patient care. In our fight for recognition, perhaps we have failed to let our pharmacist colleagues know that we appreciate what they do, and that our work is enriched by their contributions. Perhaps we should be intentional to thank our pharmacists for this contribution so that they do not feel we are trying to usurp them and dismiss their value.
Physicians acknowledge and applaud pharmacists’ tireless contribution and value added to the ASP team. We support you in leadership roles. When we say we as physicians are suited to be ASP leaders, it is because we are. It does not diminish your role as co-leaders in a multidisciplinary team; neither does your teaching of antibiotics to ID fellows diminish our role as clinical experts to trainees. Can’t we all just get along? Time to put this superfluous competition to rest and support each other’s value, for the patients’ sake!