Insights from the Pandemic: Jen Brull MD with the Perspective of a Physician in Rural Practice
Dr. Jen Brull is a family medicine physician practicing in Plainville, KS who opened her private practice in 2002 and has held many roles over the years in her community including Chief of Staff at her local hospital and health officer for the health department. She currently serves as Vice President of Clinical Engagement at Aledade in addition to seeing patients in her practice. Earlier this year we talked about how her community, practice and personal life have been changed by the pandemic and what she has learned so far.
COVID did represent an opportunity to pivot in many ways – one big change was shifting to telehealth to provide patient care. Prior to the pandemic, her practice had not utilized telehealth. When Kansas made the decision to lock down, they were able to transition more than 80% of visits to telehealth within 36 hours. The crisis instigated the necessary innovation needed to make it work. And, not surprisingly, Jen found that this format may be superior to in-person visits for certain kinds of issues, especially mental health visits.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic resulted in increased stress for her practice team and partners. The constant need to adapt to new challenges, uncertainties of the day-to-day hospital capacity as well as changes in recommendations from experts throughout the pandemic were fatiguing. To solve this problem, she and her healthcare partners built a COVID team that met regularly to review the most recent information, plan next steps and make decisions collaboratively. They published a daily update of information relevant to their work, shared with the caveat that “it might be different [tomorrow] because science might learn more.”
The COVID team is still in operation today and includes key hospital and clinic personnel, the head of the local health department and relevant community leaders, who meet as often as necessary based on the COVID burden locally. Work has included policy development, supply chain management, testing protocols, vaccine supply and delivery and hospital bed availability. The group has been a major source of support for its members.
Partnering and listening have been important skills throughout this time. Early in the pandemic, her clinic had an opportunity to sign up for free PPE. At first, Jen told her colleagues she didn't think it was necessary; they had sufficient supply initially and should not take resources that other practices might need more critically. A colleague’s insistence on signing up, however, was ultimately crucial to her practice making it through the early part of 2020 without running out of PPE. In her words, it was a moment of self-reflection “...input from others that generates a strong reaction is something I need to pay more attention to rather than dismiss.”
As stress and change continue to contribute to fatigue and burnout for Jen, she states she found it essential to overcome some unhealthy pandemic behaviors: hunkering down, being stressed out and eating for comfort. She has changed her habits to emphasize exercise and meditation which she states have helped her a lot, not just in physically feeling better, but in being a better colleague and team leader. “When I don’t feel healthy, I can’t do as good of a job at helping others be healthy.”
Jen has a unique perspective as both a private practice physician and a leader in a larger organization such as Aledade. She notes that a key to her success is maintaining human connection and a culture of community where people care about one another and focus on the future.
I deeply appreciate Jen sharing her experience so openly. I hope you find this helpful. If you have an experience you would like to share, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk.