The Empowered Physician Leader

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Today’s healthcare environment is shifting at an ever-increasing pace. The transition to community health focused care is both daunting and challenging for most organizations.  Now, more than ever physician leadership can play a crucial and important role. 

Setup Your Physician Leaders for Success 

Before we begin, it’s foundational to understand how physicians view leadership.  Physicians are trained to work independently, they value their autonomy and can be reluctant to delegate authority.  All good qualities if you’re the patient.  My colleague once said me, “these trauma surgeons are sure difficult to work with.”  My response, “Of course they are. They are trained to take charge, assess situations quickly and be right, every single time.  And If I’m critically injured, that’s who I want taking care of me.” But yes, when we ask them to take on the mantle of administrative leaders, they need our help. 

As an administrative leader, physicians are asked to develop and approve policy, drive change, and execute on plans developed by teams of other leaders.  They are also asked to advocate for their position and work much more through influence than they are accustomed to in their clinical practices. In most, if not all cases, this is a new learning experience for the physician who is accustomed to leading in the clinical environment.   

So how do we help our physician colleagues walk that fine line between leading people as clinicians, to leading people as leaders?  

It starts with a fundamental shift in the organization and in leaderships understanding of physicians as effective leaders.  

3 Areas of Initial Focus When Establishing A Physician Leadership Role:

 1.     Authority should closely match responsibility.

Critical Factors for Success:

  • Words matter, and so do titles, job descriptions and goals.

  • Allow sufficient time for meaningful work to be completed.

  • Provide regular feedback to the physician leader on performance.

2.     Develop dyad relationships between physicians and administrative leaders.

Critical Factors for Success:

  • Assign joint responsibility to create parity between the roles.

  • Balance power between the two roles.

  • Shared control of resources to achieve goals.

3.     Engagement of the medical staff at large for physician leadership.
Note: The herding-cats metaphor is so overused, let’s just say physicians value their autonomy and believe it is central to who they are and providing good, effective and safe care. 

Critical Factors for Success:

  • Physician leaders must help the medical staff understand the value they bring when speaking in one voice.

  • Look for early wins for the medical staff. Focus on patient care and quality as a unifying platform for physicians to take a leadership role.

Through the effective and meaningful engagement of physician leaders, organizations can effectively move the organization forward as we all transition to the new healthcare delivery model, try it, you’ll be glad you did!