Regardless of their specialty, physicians want decisions that keep patients at the center of healthcare. A daily fear is that focus on the bottom line will remove the soul from medicine. Physicians feel stuck, due to a belief that they don’t have specialized training to lead change. This is a myth, because physicians already are leaders.

For 5 years, Dr. Elder was a key team member for the geriatric program at the local hospital. Her passion and commitment to geriatrics is palpable, whether she speaks at national geriatric conference or volunteers on grants. Unexpectedly, she gets notice that her mentor, the Department Chair, is retiring.

The strong personality of the Department Chair had made it challenging for her and other team members to share needed input. As a result, the clinical team was frustrated, and some even had considered changing departments.

Although the fear of losing her influential mentor initially is overwhelming, Dr. Elder recognizes the opportunity. With a little coaching, she quickly moved through her fear of not having sufficient credentials and experience. She applied for and was accepted as the interim leader.

Within 6 months, the hospital’s geriatric program was stronger than ever. Dr. Elder knew what quality looks like and paired that with her natural ability to ask good questions and engage the ideas of her colleagues to get results.

What Qualifies You to Lead?

Credentials are awarded to healthcare practitioners as a way to standardize level of education and ability to provide care. Based on medical school, residency, specialties, physicians are accustomed to being awarded permission to practice prior to moving into a field of expertise.

Just being a physician, you already acquired useful attributes for healthcare leadership. You focus on patients, value good data, and are accustomed to evidence-based decision-making. These qualities help physicians understand the balance between business reality and reality of patient care. You have what it takes to create lasting improvements in delivery of care.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is more than the ability to understand financial statements. Leadership is making a change in something you really care about. You are a leader whether you contribute as a Medical Director or an active member on a quality improvement team. Also, you demonstrate leadership when someone’s decision or life is changed, because of your words or behavior.

The competencies needed to lead mainly involve helping people see a vision of improved healthcare delivery, supporting their efforts to achieve it, and doing so with integrity and accountability. In leadership, unlike medicine, your technical knowledge does not matter as much as your interpersonal skills. If more physicians knew this essential leadership principle, they would be more willing to try on leadership roles.

Steps to Being A Physician Leader

Healthcare organizations need the distinctive perspective of physicians to shepherd a future of better health care at lower costs. Currently, only a limited number of physicians have formal leadership training. Some have a mentor or an executive coach.

Real leadership skills often are learned over time and by example. Most physicians gain leadership savvy by on-the-job experience observing good and poor examples of other leaders.

Books and formal training will expedite your learning curve, but are not a reason to wait. Follow these 3 keys to leadership, and be a part of the change you want to see:

  • Put yourself out there.
  • Be willing to take a stand.
  • Ask for feedback.
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