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Posted: October 01, 2009

Executive Edge: Jodi Chambers

St. Anthony's chief medical officer continues to practice medicine while helping to manage the hospital

Lynn Bronikowski

 

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PHOTO BY TODD NAKASHIMA


Dr. Jodi Chambers will never get the image out of her head - an 18-year-old near death in the emergency room of St. Anthony Central Hospital, a victim of a gang stabbing. Chambers was head of trauma.

Her patient had escaped a gang lifestyle, but on this night he got caught in its web at a party where he was stabbed in the throat.
"Blood was everywhere, spurting to the ceiling, when we released the compression on the artery," Chambers recalls. "I went out and talked to his parents, telling them he may wake up fine or he may not wake up at all. That kid left the hospital in five days, and his parents moved him to Florida."

Six years later he would return to the ER - grasping a bouquet of flowers and the promise of finishing his college education in Denver. He had kept Chambers' name through the years and returned to thank her.

"Even with all that commotion going on he said he remembered hearing me say, ‘You're not going to die on me,'" said Chambers, 51, who in 2005 was named chief medical officer of St. Anthony Central. "That was one of my most memorable cases. There are many others, but that one stays with me."

A Denver native and East High School grad, Chambers earned a bachelor of arts in molecular, cellular and development biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and went on to earn her medical degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Early in childhood, she was inspired to go into medicine by her mother, who grew up one of 12 children on a Montana farm and became a registered nurse.

"My mom is the smartest, most impressive person I know," Chambers said. "She went to college - and in those days you were either a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. In hindsight, she would have loved to have been a physician, and she exposed me to a lot of things in medicine. Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a doctor."

Chambers chose surgery, specializing in breast disease management, and continues to maintain a private practice alongside long days as a member of St. Anthony's senior management team involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of patient care services.

"My personality is such that I really enjoy having a problem, being able to tackle a problem and then seeing the results," Chambers said. "Most people who come in for surgery have a problem to solve so there's that immediate gratification you get when you're a surgeon."

At the same time, she practices her "people person" skills, establishing rapport quickly to put people at ease.

"Breast care in surgery is about as close as you come to being an internist because you build strong bonds and relationships with your patients," Chambers said. "Some of my patients still come to me 15 to 16 years later."

She admits that today's health-care climate motivated her to go into hospital management.

"I was getting to a point where the private practice of medicine was getting frustrating, the way the insurance companies reimbursed for breast care management," said Chambers, who regularly wears her trademark colorful scrubs even behind her desk. "I did not want to run my breast cancer patients through a process where you've got 15 minutes to talk about breast cancer. And to do that in an hour and a half, well you just can't run a practice. As everybody knows, our system is so broken, and there are inequities which you hear about all the time from primary-care docs."

She considers her move into hospital management her small contribution to helping solve the health care crisis, having walked in a surgeon's and trauma doc's shoes.

"In private practice, you impact one patient at a time, which is wonderful, but in this job, hopefully you make changes and impact populations," Chambers said. "It's a great mix that allows me to practice medicine for the pure joy of practicing medicine."

 

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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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