New hospitalist, familiar face

Hodges returns to city with focus on patient in role at Highlands

SCOTTSBORO - He left Scottsboro a champion focused on academics and running cross-country at the University of Alabama Huntsville (now UAHuntsville). Twelve years later, he's returning home with a focus. Andrew Hodges is determined to make a difference as a hospitalist at Highlands Medical Center. Hodges hasn't changed much. He still has a ready smile and a quick wit that will serve him well at work with patients, the medical staff at his home away from home and in the community he is proud to call home again.

Hodges graduated from Scottsboro High School in 2000. He was solid academically and played a key role on two state championship cross country teams. He won the individual title once and still holds the school record in the mile run. He went on to a successful collegiate career with the Chargers. After graduation from UAHuntsville, Hodges and his wife, Sarah, made their way to Mobile where he attended medical school at the University of South Alabama. He had visions of working in Birmingham or another large city. He thought he wanted to be a pulmonologist after working with Dr. Keith Young in Huntsville. That changed during his residency at the University of Kentucky when he began to feel a pull toward rural medicine. "Actually, I never thought I would come back," Hodges said. "We prayed a lot. This was the one place I felt motivated to come back to. It's my hometown and I'm already invested in the community."

His dad, Doug, is glad Andrew is home again. He and his wife, Nancy, now have two sons - Scott also lives in Scottsboro - and four grandchildren nearby. "Having all four grandchildren here is the greatest feeling in the world," Doug said. The call from Andrew announcing he was coming home was a memorable one. "He called me late at night and said, ‘I'm going to be a hospitalist and come home,'" Doug recalls. "I said, that's fine, now tell me what a hospitalist is." Actually Doug was a little more excited than that. He knew how close his two sons were despite the fact that Scott is nine years older than his younger brother. "Sometimes we would have to ask Scott how Andrew was doing if we hadn't heard from him in a while," Doug said with a laugh. "They talked every day by phone." Andrew is happy to be close to both Scott  and his dad saying the three of them are closer now than ever. And he did answer his dad's question. "He told me 'it was the wave of the future,'" Doug said.

"A hospitalist is a doctor that stays in the hospital," Andrew said in an interview. "We take care of hospital patients, those in floor beds and the intensive care unit." Hodges is prepared. He completed internal medicine training at UK during his residency and says he is comfortable working with patients who have acute and critical care needs. A hospitalist looks after patients who are admitted to the hospital without a primary care physician. He or she also provides support to primary care physicians for some of their more critically ill patients and as requested. Hodges explains that a hospitalist may be called in to see a primary care physician's patient and direct the hospital care for a number of reasons. Communication with the patient's doctor is essential. "It does not mean that the primary care physician is not the patient's doctor anymore," he said. "We have already talked with the doctor and he or she knows every decision we make and gets a copy of every note. We may talk to the family care doctor every day and we release them back to their care with a scheduled follow-up visit." More primary care physicians seem to be utilizing the services of hospitalists as a way to spend more time with patients in the clinic and because the hospitalist can be more attentive to the patient's needs. "We can spend time with patients," Hodges said. "Our efforts are very cohesive. Unless patients need services that we can't provide, that we can't take care of, we can handle it here so they don't have to go to Huntsville or another large hospital unless it's necessary."

Hodges works seven days on and is off seven. He alternates between working the day and night shift and is on call at other times.  "We're very, very busy but not crazy full. On my week off I won't work, I'll do extracurricular medical stuff to keep up to date," said Hodges. "I'm excited, it's a lot of fun." Hodges grew up in a family known for providing health care in Jackson County.  His parents are in health related fields - Doug is a pharmacist and Nancy is a nurse. The Hodges family founded Hodges hospital in the 1920s and his uncle, Durwood Hodges is a family practice physician and serves on Highlands board of directors.

Sarah is a stay at home mom, who takes care of the couples 4-year old and 21-month old children, Carter and Miles. Andrew gives Sarah credit for making medical school a good bit easier. She used her degree in chemistry and math to teach middle school age children and tutored on the side. That helped in paying for school and living expenses. The couple met in college when Andrew was running for Sarah's brother, David Cain. They got married in college and then made the trek to and through medical school and residency. "I say she was a recruiting tool," Andrew, who hadn't met Sarah before entering college, said. He had offers to attend other schools but is glad he wound up at UAHuntsville.

For Andrew his position is all about a team approach. Today he is a member of the medical team taking care of hospitalized patients while the primary care physician, nurses and other Highlands staff contribute to provide the best care possible for the patient here at home.  Teamwork is something Hodges knows well. The lessons learned on cross-country trails and in track and field have carried over into his profession. He knows the end result of physicians supporting physicians is best for the patient. "The hospitalist role gives more flexibility," Hodges said. 

Ken Bonner: The Daily Sentinel


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