How Great Physicians Become Great Physician Leaders

Posted on Tue, Jun 16, 2015
How Great Physicians Become Great Physician Leaders

Medical leadership makes a critical difference in delivering quality clinical outcomes

by Greg Rose, M.D., Ph.D. 

No one understands the pressures, demands, questions, concerns and requirements of a physician like another physician.  No one else could fully understand those internal demons that invariably haunt the thoughts of healthcare professionals.  It’s not just your license, reputation and livelihood on the line; it’s the life/quality of life of another human being.  

In healthcare, physicians nearly always dictate the culture.  In many cases, physicians determine if an initiative will survive or not by casting their vote of acceptance and compliance.  As value-based purchasing puts a laser focus on delivering quality and value, the collaboration of hospital administration and physician groups on identifying improvement strategies and achieving goals, or physician-hospital alignment, is critical.

Fortunately, most physicians are inherently driven to do what’s right for patient care.   In a hospital setting, alignment of physician and hospital goals is critical, but there is the potential for distrust when those outside the physician ranks try to impose change.  What are their motives?  They are concerned with managing the hospital while we are responsible for patient care. Do they really have a full understanding of and appreciation for the physician commitment to the physician-patient relationship?
Physicians have a natural, vested interest in maintaining high standards of care.  They rely on and demand the leadership of other clinicians.  Strong clinical leadership shows the physicians they can be confident in the decisions being made.  It is paramount for creating a safe environment in which to practice medicine.  Evaluations of physician performance and education ranging from communication to improving processes and metrics is more accepted coming from another physician who similarly performs their day-to-day duties and can present the information with the pure objective of improving patient care.

Interestingly, being a great physician does not necessarily lead to being a great leader.  Leadership requires the cultivation of an internal inclination. As aptly described in this Journal of General Internal Medicine article, Developing Physician-Leaders: A Call to Action by James K. Stoller, MD, MS, there is, too often, a significant deficit in leadership training for physicians. [i]  But with today’s healthcare challenges, effective leadership is essential.

That’s why programs like EmCare’s Annual Leadership Conference, Pillars of Excellence training and Leadership Labs are so valuable in identifying and cultivating leadership skills throughout the ranks of physician-led organizations.  Throughout its history, EmCare has been an organization of physicians leading physicians leading physicians.  As a national organization, it would be easy to adopt a corporate mentality.  But, the company has a keen understanding that you can’t have a great healthcare organization without great clinical leadership.  The company both recruits and develops strong physician leaders to support its mission of supporting hospitals and physicians in providing quality patient care.

I have personally been influenced by two books namely: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.  I humbly suggest these to any physician looking to cultivate his/her inner leadership or at least better understand and recognize leadership in his/her workplace.

In addition, it’s important to have a strong clinical leader as a mentor.  It’s too easy to slip back into the methods and mentalities ingrained in us in medical school.  Having a mentor offers the quintessential reality check that puts the focus on why physician leadership is so crucial and the work required to develop the competencies of a great leader.

Bottom line, great physicians become great leaders by being engaged in the process of learning to be a great leader. Be open to advice and constructive suggestions.  Continuously improve. Learn from your mistakes.  Remember that becoming a great leader is a journey.
Dr. Rose is CEO of EmCare Radiology and Rays 

[i] Developing Physician-Leaders: A Call to Action James K. Stoller J Gen Intern Med. 2009 July; 24(7): 876–878. Published online 2009 May 20. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-1007-8 PMCID: PMC2695517. Retrieved from on August 15, 2013.

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