3 business skills doctors need to know


Prior to entering the medical field, my preconceived notion of what makes a good doctor essentially compromised of compassion, intelligence, and the ability to think fast on ones feet. Although I continue to believe that these professional qualities are paramount to excellent patient care, I am finding that other, less obvious proficiencies are also required.  Ironically, these skills that I have in mind involve a field what we as physicians know least about: business.

Take a moment to clear the acidic taste in your throat.  Like you, comparing business to medicine is as distasteful to me as overhearing a chef comment about roach control while awaiting a meal.   Nevertheless, I can’t help but recognize a distinct correlation between the skills necessary to excel in the day-day activities of my job to those buddies of mine starting out management positions after receiving their MBA degrees.

Management 101

In an era where solo practices are becoming a rarity and the rise of nurse practioners, clinical pharmacists and physician assistants is challenging the traditional concept of doctor-centered healthcare delivery, the ability to effectively manage a team of multi-level medical providers is an increasingly necessary component to a physician’s basic skill set.

It is fascinating then that despite this increasing demand for managerial competency, the vast majority of medical trainees, including myself, are entering the field with little to no previous experience in team leadership and task delegation.

Leadership 101

As important as it is to be proficient in allocating shared responsibilities, physicians must also stay personally responsible as more and more tasks are delivered by multiple members of the healthcare team.

Whereas it is ubiquitously understood in business that a service or product glitch in a company will ultimately mar the reputations of those running it, it is less implicit in our field that a doctor is almost always implicated in any potential medical error even when committed by other members of same healthcare team.

Customer care 101

It is true that mitigating these medical mishaps are deeply rooted in a physician’s training, yet a physician’s concern for patient satisfaction is all too often sidelined in the setting of treating multiple patients’ afflictions each day.  This is unfortunately an unavoidable byproduct of the high demands of multifaceted patient care.

As crass as it may seem, patients are in fact customers that come to us demanding the same high-quality service they would expect from any other service provider.  Not only do patients rely on competency in the delivery of their treatment, but also desire transparency, respect and unambiguous communication from their physician when confronted with complex medical decisions relating to their illness.

This emphasis of customer satisfaction through individualized service and client feedback is readily engrained in the minds of those in business, yet is often overshadowed in the field of medicine.

Take home point

In the end, physicians do get the opportunity to develop and foster these business-like skills during postgraduate training by running several healthcare teams in a supervised environment.  However, the transition to these management positions is often exceedingly stressful for many residents, especially those without prior organizational experience.

Similar to hiring PhDs to teach medical students basic science courses during the first year of medical school, perhaps it is time to bring in local business leaders to our medical centers in order to educate residents in basic administrative tactics.

Until then, I guess its business as usual.

Brian J. Secemsky is an internal medicine resident who blogs at The Huffington Post.  He can be reached on Twitter @BrianSecemskyMD.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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