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Turning Skilled Physicians Into Strong Leaders

By Keith L. Martin via medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com

leadership-group-1940x900_33824Any major change in an industry requires strong leadership. In the U.S., healthcare has undergone a significant transformation in the last decade and the evolution is far from complete. That said, among all the stakeholders involved in the medical field, physicians are the most likely candidates to be agents of change.

While medical school teaches the skill set to heal, is it also preparing tomorrow’s doctors for this role?

Medical Economics recently convened a panel of leadership experts to help answer this question and others surrounding physician leadership. The panel consisted of:

  • Peter B. Angood, MD, chief executive officer and president of the American Association for Physician Leadership;
  • Maria Chandler, MD, MBA, founder of the Association of MD-MBA Programs and the University of California, Irvine MD-MBA Program, a practicing pediatrician, and a member of the Medical Economics Editorial Advisory Board; and
  • Robert Juhasz, DO, immediate past president of the American Osteopathic Association, a board-certified internist affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic, and an associate dean at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Medical Economics:
Why is physician leadership so important in healthcare today—first, with the advent of team-based care?

Maria Chandler: I think most physicians would agree that physician leadership is so important because we feel like we know what’s best for patients in most regards. We want to help patients. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re usually fighting for and so we want to be in the discussion about what is going to happen with patients, how we’re going to proceed with patients, how we’re going to treat patients and all the questions that come up when talking about treating patients.

Peter Angood: I think we’re in the early stages of team-based medicine and multi-professional approaches, so there’s still lots of room to learn and for the time being within the various clinical disciplines it is the physician population that’s still trained up to the highest level of education and provided the deepest level of experiences and those individuals, in addition to being smart and motivated, they’re altruistic. They’re idealistic. They really want to create change and in the current health care delivery systems. Ninety to 95% of the care is still directly delivered by or directly supervised by physicians. So it makes sense for the physicians to be in the leadership roles but certainly a part of a multi-professional team.

Robert Juhasz: I would say that many of us are involved in education whether it’s directly involved, or indirectly involved—whether it’s with patients, their families or, with medical students and residents. I like to say you cannot not teach and the fact is that we’re all mentors and, as physicians, people are always watching what we do. And the fact is we have the opportunity to mentor others. And it’s a great privilege to be able to do that.

So it’s always thinking about, how are we helping the team members to know how they can actually engage their situational leadership within the team? How can we actually utilize all of their skills and advance their leadership as well?

Maria Chandler: I think over time, what’s happened is the physician always was the leader, let’s say in private practice many years ago, and now with the large medical groups, I think a lot of physicians don’t feel like leaders. They’re not in leadership roles in many cases and they’ve lost the helm so to speak with their own patients. They’re told what and how they need to treat patients, how many minutes they have, [and] what they’re allowed to do and not do—requests are denied in many cases.

So I think physicians are frustrated that they’ve lost that role about being able to say what’s best for patients. So I think we’re really feeling that frustration. And in the bigger groups, I think we need to regain control of leadership of the entire organizations. In many cases, physicians still run a lot of academic institutes …but they’re not necessarily leading the bigger groups. So I think that’s where a lot of the angst comes from that we’re feeling right now.

Medical Economics:
And the importance of physician leadership outside of practice?

Peter Angood: The simple answer is that physicians need to be more proactive in their approaches to assuming these leadership roles, and proactive in the way of seeking them out so that they can get some experience and learn for themselves whether they truly have aptitudes or interests in leadership and management roles. And being proactive in terms of getting extra experience and extra education with the skills around becoming an effective manager and a successful leader.

Historically, physicians got their MD and with the role they had in society and within healthcare delivery systems, often times assumed leadership roles through strength of character and strength of personality, but what we’re really recognizing now is that well-trained, well-educated physicians with leadership and management skills provide a far more effective delivery of change inside of a healthcare system and that now is beginning to translate out into non-healthcare delivery systems, other healthcare related industries.

So the physician perspective, the clinical acumen, the leadership and business skills, are all combining to provide effective change inside of a whole host of different types of organizations inside of healthcare. As they do that though, physicians need to make sure that they’re providing a proper balance for themselves and there will need to be some letting go of the clinical side in order to properly provide the focus on these leadership and management skills and experiences that they take on.

Robert Juhasz: It’s important—whether you’re in private practice for your colleagues or if you’re employed—for your organization to really have buy-in and willingness to accept the fact that a physician is moving forward with pursuits and leadership. I certainly have had that experience here at the Cleveland Clinic. I mean there is a need for physician leaders and it’s identified by many organizations about the need to enhance physician leadership.

I just completed being president of the American Osteopathic Association, which was a tremendous time commitment and a commitment on behalf of an organization for a physician to be able to take those kinds of leadership roles.

It really is a commitment, not only of the physician and colleagues, but also of the organization. And I must say I was blessed to have that support both at the Cleveland Clinic and at the American Osteopathic Association to be able to do that. But particularly as I transitioned through those roles to make sure that my colleagues were supportive and patients were understanding to allow me to make those transitions and make them successful.

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