In February of 2023, I did a one-week locum tenens, working as a guest physician at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News, VA. It is a small community hospital, far different than the large, world-renowned academic medical centers where I have spent most of my career. I spent that week doing a variety of bread-and-butter procedures—nothing like the complex vascular cases I normally do. Yet in that time, I gained an important insight I would like to carry into other places where I practice: that when it comes to creating good workforce—and patient—experience, kindness matters.

Small community hospitals often do not have all the advanced technology and super specialists of a major medical center. However, there are some intangible things that these small hospitals offer that we just do not see in large health systems. What makes these small hospitals special are the people who work there.

I consider myself pretty easy going and polite. I always say good morning with a smile. However, after living 30 years on the East Coast, in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, I have gotten accustomed to not hearing anything in return when I greet people in the hallways. In my week at Mary Immaculate Hospital, every single person I passed in the hallway greeted me, too. And it was not just because I was a physician—everyone said “good morning,” “hello,” and “how are you” to each other.

The staff was quick to help patients find their way, or to personally escort them to their destination. Hospital staff talked to patients like family. I felt the warmth, like every elderly hospital staff member could have been my grandma or grandpa.

This is the kind of care that I saw growing up when I would tag along with my father, Rao Sudheendra, a cardiothoracic surgeon, to the hospital. And it is those simple courtesies, respect, and friendliness that I saw at Mary Immaculate Hospital—and as a kid rounding with my dad—that are often not seen in large medical centers. They have become too impersonal.

Don't get me wrong—the actual medical care at large centers is fantastic, and they will save your life. There are amazing and friendly doctors, nurses, and staff there, too. But the experience at a large hospital is cold by comparison.

A patient I saw at Mary Immaculate Hospital came in for a biopsy. I noticed that she had vascular disease and asked her about it. She said her primary care physician is baffled by the way her legs look and said there is nothing to do. I explained what it was, how it is treated, and told her who to look up in the area to get help, since I am only here for the week.

As she left, she said, "Doc, even though you can't treat me and I cannot come to Ohio, the fact that you helped me understand my condition and put a name to it was more help than many have given me. Thank you." It is that kind of exchange that keeps us engaged.

There is more to medicine than science. Medicine is also an art. And the experience of being in a warm, caring environment is an important aspect of how it is practiced.

As I anxiously wait for construction to finish on my new practice, 360 Vascular Institute, I see more and more the deficiencies in our health care system. There is no doubt that my practice will have its problems, too. But I hope that the one thing that we will get right is treating people like family.

Deepak Sudheendra, MD, MHCI is a Vascular and Interventional Radiologist, and CEO and Medical Director of the 360 Vascular Institute in Dublin, Ohio. A prior Penn Faculty member, he graduated from the Master of Health Care Innovation program in 2021. This piece is adapted and expanded from a note he originally posted on LinkedIn.