Why the Transition from Clinician to Organizational Leader is Difficult for Some Physicians
Nearly all care delivery in a healthcare organization flows through their physicians, who are usually viewed as the de facto leaders in almost all clinical settings. As such, physicians have a disproportionate impact on the delivery of care and have a disproportionate responsibility to lead change, according to Seth Wolk, MD, MHSA, Senior Consultant at NuBrick Partners.
In his editorial for HCA Healthcare Journal of Medicine, “The Need for Physician Leaders,” Wolk discusses this disproportionate impact and the critical need for healthcare organizations to develop strong physician leaders.
While physicians possess many of the qualities for great leadership, including high intelligence, drive and desire to serve others, some find the transition from clinician to organizational leader difficult. Wolk highlights an outdated model for physicians’ education that lacks depth on essential leadership components.
“The 4 years of medical school and subsequent residency training are not an efficient experience. The current system was designed to teach students how they as individual, independent actors should care for patients – because at the time when the architecture of medical education was defined a century ago, doctors largely worked independent of each other. Today, doctors work within very complex systems. There are processes through which multiple caregivers interact. These processes are embedded within value networks that define how various actors interact. It varies by hospital, medical school and specialty department. But in general, there is little in the medical training of physicians that teaches them how to create, administer, lead and improve the way people work together in the healthcare system.”
Although they have invested decades practicing clinical skills, physicians who aspire to an organizational leadership role must learn a different set of skills that shifts their focus to the success of others. For some, the transition can be difficult, requiring formal training in:
- Operational and financial management
- Emotional intelligence
- Data science (the study of the extraction of generalized knowledge from data)
- Quality and safety science
- Population management
- Utilization management
- Information technology
- Talent management
However, Wolk says physicians’ exceptional problem-solving skills, performance under pressure and strong sense of purpose are a few attributes that can help great physicians more easily transition to an organizational leadership role.
Wolk also offers some advice from his own experience for how to lead physicians.
“Deeply involve physicians in the design and execution of initiatives. Don’t just allow lip service or perfunctory review. Specifically, ask them design/architect potential solution sets. Most physicians are superb problem solvers. That’s what they do on a daily basis. However, clearly define the problem, define the design guard-rails and define the financial constraints.”
Ultimately, Wolk says effective organizational physician leaders create an environment in which their colleagues can successfully exercise their skills and knowledge and are convinced that their efforts contribute to a noble cause.