This post was contributed by Jennifer Hanscom, CEO of the Washington State Medical Association and a board member of the Physicians Foundation.
In these unsettled times, smart, compassionate and innovative leaders are needed more than ever. With today’s challenges in the house of medicine, the shifting landscape of healthcare and the unpredictable fate of federal legislation impacting their work, it’s essential that physicians are directly involved in healthcare leadership to navigate a better way forward for the profession and patients. This requires bold and visionary leaders to tackle the challenges facing the practice of medicine, our patients and our communities.
In practical action, all physicians are leaders, regardless of title, hierarchy or workplace. They must be because the nature of their roles demands it. What other career requires years and years of training, confidence and calm in the face of trauma, and split second life-and-death decision-making, all while orchestrating precision teamwork despite sleep deprivation? To handle the incredible demands on the frontlines of care requires an incredible range of skills. Every day, physicians contribute expertise, experience, knowledge, vision and wisdom to their patient teams and communities.
In the extraordinary position they hold, physicians experience both the culture of patient care as well as the culture of business. They stand at the intersection of these often-competing cultures—right between patient-focused care and the bottom line. It follows that physicians—who, along with their patients—are on the receiving end of business decisions, ought to be in positions of influence to drive patient-centered care and efficient delivery of healthcare outcomes.
More physicians are moving into titled leadership positions, which bodes well for patients and the businesses that serve them. But an official title or role isn’t required in order to lead. No matter what their role is, they are living out their oath to “do no harm,” put patients first, and act on evidence-based care.
Still, leadership isn’t for the faint of heart, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. That’s why the Physicians Foundation places physician leadership at the forefront of its grant-making efforts awarding millions of dollars to leadership programs across the country. With a commitment to advancing knowledge, skills and abilities of physician leaders, the Foundation has funded nearly 40 leadership programs over the past few years focused on new approaches and models that support physicians desiring to become leaders in the profession. These programs focus on topics critical to the development of core physician-leader curricula, such as:
- Healthcare Finance
- Organizational Behavior
- Conflict Resolution and Negotiation
- Coaching and Mentoring
- Building High Performing Teams
- Quality & Performance Measurement
- Operations Management
- Strategic Management
- State & National Health Policy
Developing leadership skills is a priority of the Physicians Foundation, as it recognizes the need for physicians to thrive in today’s healthcare environment, influence the future of the profession and deliver high-quality, cost-efficient care.
As the healthcare system evolves and physicians face more administrative and regulatory burdens, it is imperative for them to build business, management and leadership competencies. Research shows that overall organization performance improves when physicians are directly involved in healthcare management. Programs that help physicians gain a solid understanding of business and leadership skills are critical to maintaining practice viability, while ensuring physicians play a vital role in today’s healthcare reform discussions.
As Kurt O’Brien, senior lecturer on organization development at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine said at a recent Washington State Medical Association leadership conference, “There are two core beliefs about leading: It’s really hard, and it’s very humbling. …But there is also tremendous opportunity. It’s the opportunity to create something new, to engage people in meaningful ways, to tap into a group’s potential.”
Now more than ever, physicians must bring their expertise, experience and unique perspective to the forefront of leadership. Healthcare today requires innovative, interdisciplinary physician leaders who will envision and shape the future of the business of medicine.