Our health care system needs more physician leaders. Physician-led accountable care organizations have been shown to improve the quality of patient care while reducing overall costs. Physicians, by their nature, tend to be goal-oriented, have the ability to gather and assimilate evidence, and make difficult decisions, but these traits do not always translate naturally into leadership skills. We are trained to make a diagnosis and map out a treatment plan in medical school and residency, but the typical curriculum does not include developing staff, leading teams or strategic planning. One option to learn these skills is to get an MBA. However, going back to school is not an option for everyone (like me — at least not yet), and it may not be necessary.
Here are a few tips that may help open up leadership opportunities:
1. Be open to possibilities. Sometimes an opportunity doesn’t always look like one. In other words, plans don’t always work out the way you think they will.
2. Say “yes” to things that sound like more work. Pick up that extra call or volunteer for that hospital committee. Saying “yes” can introduce you to many new people and experiences. If you say, “yes” then follow through. New colleagues who see you as a finisher often go back to you again and introduce you to others.
3. Let people look after you. This may not be mentorship in the traditional sense. A friend of a friend or someone’s spouse you meet at a department function may introduce you to people with similar interests in clinical care, quality improvement or research.
4. Give credit to others. “Taking credit” is not about featuring an individual or the leader — it should be about the group. You can’t implement change without a team, and as a leader, you have to make sure the group gets the recognition it deserves.
5. Given the opportunity, lead and not just manage. Leadership and management are often used interchangeably (unfortunately), and managerial duties often come with any leadership position, but they are not the same. People want to follow a leader, not a manager.
In health care, a leader should set a good example of professionalism in clinical care, communications, and administrative work. A leader creates a shared vision for the group with a clear direction and celebration of the group’s accomplishments. A leader first invests in his or her staff members to develop them individually so their greater potential can benefit the group. A leader is inspired by his or her staff and is constantly listening and learning.
You’re already a doctor. Now be a leader.