Dr. James Shamiyeh has worn several hats while working at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Now he’s navigating a transition from direct patient care to optimizing the hospital’s efficiency.
The 49-year-old started at the hospital in 2005 as a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician, then became the medical director of the Heart Lung Vascular Institute in 2016. In 2019, he was named the medical center’s senior vice president and chief quality officer, and, as of July 1, he became the executive vice president of clinical operations.
It’s been a quick career shift, but one that Shamiyeh said he feels called to do.
“Health care is more complicated than it’s ever been before,” Shamiyeh said in an interview with Knox News. “Even though I truly enjoyed bedside care, I felt pulled to this type of work because of the broader impact. The system has to work for the patients.”
And during a global pandemic that has infected more than 141,000 people in Knox County, creating a health care system that works both with and for patients continues to be a critical part of Shamiyeh’s goal of prioritizing patient care and experience at the UT Medical Center.
That’s why he’s a recipient of Knox.biz’s 2022 Health Care Heroes award for physician medical excellence.
Charting a path through the pandemic
Being able to predict the COVID-19 pandemic likely would have made Shamiyeh’s job as chief quality officer a lot easier.
Unfortunately, being able to see the future isn’t one of Shamiyeh’s many talents.
It’s been a difficult more than two years for all medical workers, including the staff at the UT Medical Center. While COVID-19 waves ebbed and flowed for the first year, the delta surge followed by the emergence of the omicron variant were some of the more challenging months Shamiyeh faced during this time at UT Medical Center.
“The fact that they hit back-to-back was very challenging because of the drain it took on the staff,” Shamiyeh said. “With the delta surge, we were seeing more patients hospitalized than we had seen before, sicker patients and more patients in the ICU.”
But two of Shamiyeh’s talents definitely helped him face the challenge head-on: his deep knowledge of clinical processes and his serious attention to detail.
He led the medical center’s COVID-19 Hospital Incident Command System (HICS), used in hospitals during emergencies like natural disasters.
“But we all know the challenges that COVID-19 brought, so we ran a modified HICS structure for several months, which really got all the right people at the table, sometimes on a daily basis, to be able to address the issues that came up during COVID,” Shamiyeh said.
High-ranking physicians, health care workers and administrators started their day with a Zoom call led by Shamiyeh to work through issues surrounding personal protective equipment shortages, staffing and capacity, vaccine rollout roadblocks and more.
“Dr. Shamiyeh’s collaboration was huge in navigating the challenges. It was a very collaborative effort, and he led that effort with respect and integrity,” said Laura Dean, the assistant director of public relations at the UT Medical Center.
This behind-the-scenes work and leadership helped all the different pieces of UT Medical Center’s health care system connect and ultimately enhance the level of care for the hospital’s patients.
“Throughout the pandemic (he) never wavered on his commitment to providing the absolute best care to our patients that we can provide,” said Joe Landsman, UT Medical Center’s president and CEO.
Cautious optimism about COVID-19
Even though he can’t predict the future, Shamiyeh and the UT Medical Center are hopeful that we’ve felt the worst of COVID-19.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we won’t have another massive disruption from COVID-19,” he said.
The pandemic hasn’t left us yet. People are still getting sick, and people are still being hospitalized. But health care is more than COVID-19, Shamiyeh said.
“My hope is if we can (avoid) one of those big surges … then this is a huge year, not just for us, but for health care in general, to reset a little bit and to get some momentum behind a lot of the challenges that that COVID-19 left us with around staffing and around other things,” Shamiyeh said.
In his new role, he’ll continue a lot of the work he’s already done: making the hospital work better for its patients. But he’s also anticipating and preparing for the changes health care systems will experience in the next few years.
“When you think about how much health care is changing and evolving … It’s going to require not just trying to be efficient, but it’s also going to require innovation,” Shamiyeh said.
It’s a different challenge than COVID-19, but it’s one that Shamiyeh is looking forward to tackling.
“The world has changed. We all know the world has changed, and that’s true in health care as well,” Shamiyeh said. “That’s the exciting part of what I get to think about when I wake up every day: How can we make such a complex system with so many different pieces as efficient and accessible as possible and also provide the best possible experience for the patients?”