For Ed Hett, a focus on families is what keeps him in medicine.
“I have patients I’ve seen for more than 30 years now because they started with me when I was in residency. I really enjoy the long-term relationships,” said Hett, a family physician who also became the vice president of new models of care for Via Christi Health last October.
“You might see three generations of the same family and you begin to understand the dynamics of how they work together, how they live together, and I just find that fascinating.
“When they enter a time of crisis, which is usually why they’re coming to us, if you better understand those dynamics, you can enter into their lives and be a better part of the healing process.”
Hett grew up on a farm south of Marion and attended Tabor College. He later attended the University of Kansas School of Medicine.
He and his wife, Jean, have been married 35 years and have three children and nine grandchildren.
When not spending time with the grandkids, which Hett describes as “wonderful chaos,” he likes to drive his Jeep in the Flint Hills and go to the symphony with his wife. He also sings in the choir at First Baptist Church.
Hett started as a solo practice but later added partners. In 1996, they joined Via Christi and are now called Via Christi Clinic on North Amidon.
What drew you to family medicine?
When you go through medical school, you have the opportunity to visit a lot of different subspecialties, and there were a lot of them that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed pediatrics, geriatrics, surgery, and it just seemed like everything that I went through, I enjoyed.
The logical conclusion you come to is that family medicine embraces almost all of that, and so I thought it would be wonderful for two reasons. One is I had the variety and get to see all ages, and the other is you have really long-term relationships with people.
How do you balance continuing to practice and taking on a leadership role at Via Christi?
I spend 50 percent of my time practicing and 50 percent doing administrative work. And I’m really glad Via Christi encourages that. (Jeff) Korsmo and I have had that conversation and he enables that kind of balance, which is a very big positive for me. I would hate to give up practicing.
Have there been any events in your personal life that have shaped the way you practice?
Medicine is a science, but when you actually turn it into the art or ministry of medicine, that seems to come from personal experiences of your own. One is when we had twins. You gain a whole new appreciation for parents who worry about their children and the exhaustion that can occur. The second one was in about 1998. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic disease. So I felt like that caused me to develop empathy for dealing with medications and ambiguity – and not only about the diagnosis but your own ability to function in your career.
My mother’s death was very significant because it exposed the end of the life frustrations you deal with in medicine. That was in 2000.
Then I had bypass surgery in 2010, although I’ve never been overweight and have exercised all my life, but it was a combination of the medication I took (for arthritis) and my family history. …
I think when you have something that happens to you, patients can see it’s really a person who is trying to hear what (they’re) … saying about frustrations, illnesses and fears.
What do you do in your position as vice president of new models of care?
Part of it is looking to the future and saying, “What are the emerging trends that we’re going to have to deal with?” If you think about the things people are familiar with, you’ve got the baby boomers that are going through, that are going to have to create this immense need for care.
New models of care is saying that as we see a new trend coming, we have to get out ahead of it and develop the systems that will enable us to take care of patients.
The challenge in this role is to say, “This is the way we’re doing it now. Let’s experiment with doing it in an environment we can control and do a pilot program to work out kinks and understand how we can move that into normal operations and transform operations.”
It’s sort of a combination of balancing innovation, which is the new stuff, and transformation.
A lot of the work we do is ambiguous and messy, not linear; you have to deal with barriers and problem solve and sometimes you have to take things from another industry and apply it in this environment and perhaps a different application.
What do you see as the future in the industry?
I heard someone say awhile back that medicine is part of a consolidating industry, and they likened it to the auto industry in the early 1990s when there was a plethora of manufacturers and now there are really only three major ones. …
I think we are experiencing and living the consolidation of what used to be a cottage industry, and I think it’s a very difficult time because we’re doing it at a time when we’re trying to reduce the cost and improve the care, and to do all of that in one big bucket is a tough thing to do. I think that’s where the future is going and I think Via Christi has seen that.
First, you brought St. Joe and St. Francis, the two orders, together, so you had consolidation in 1996 with the formation of Via Christi, and now Via Christi is a part of Ascension, which is the largest Catholic health care organization in the U.S.
So we’ve had consolidation occurring in Wichita in less than 20 years, which requires new systems and ways of doing things. And that’s what the future is about.