3 Ways to Foster Physician Leadership for Improved Outcomes

Senior Director of Marketing

As the healthcare sector witnesses unprecedented organizational changes, fostering leadership potential in physicians is crucial. Studies have shown that physician leadership has positive effects on both organizational outcomes and patient care. There’s no question that physician leadership marks a change for the better in healthcare organizations, but achieving that change can be difficult.

So how can HR teams in healthcare organizations integrate physicians into leadership roles?

“Good physician leaders need to have emotional intelligence, and be self-aware,” says Sharon Fekete, Medical Solution Strategist at The Doctor Whisperer. “That’s something to consider when recruiting physicians: Do they have the right qualities to thrive as leaders?”

Here are three ways you can help doctors integrate into leadership positions at your organization.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Ideally, all doctors will be empathetic and respectful, but that doesn’t always translate to innate leadership skills. Don’t just throw a physician into a leadership role, because even the best doctor may not make a great leader: A physician may have a great bedside manner and emotional intelligence, but managing employees is an entirely different situation.

Even physicians who already show leadership potential will need training and mentoring for a leadership role. “Before you really put somebody in a position of leadership, whether it be a physician or just an ancillary staff member, they need so much training, mentorship and encouragement,” Fekete says. “Onboarding is a great strategy for determining someone’s leadership fitness, without pulling a support network out from under them.”

Recruit for Coachability and Curiosity

A good candidate for leadership should be coachable, and willing to accept mentorship. Fekete says ego should never be involved, as clashing egos could derail the mentorship process. “Healthcare HR teams should get in the habit of recruiting more for soft skills, such as sensitivity,” she says.

Some qualities to look for in future physician leaders are coachability and self-awareness. Keep an eye out for physicians who are coachable and demonstrate the desire to learn and grow — these are qualities that translate well to the leadership transition process. Curiosity is another quality to watch out for; innovation is a by-product of curiosity, and will maintain your organization’s forward momentum.

Don’t Be Afraid to Shake Things Up

As healthcare systems change, physician employees can become complacent. They’re typically evaluated based on quotas and metrics, and less for breakthroughs in leadership. “Healthcare systems need to encourage physician experts to continue to push the envelope and challenge our resources to provide the very best care our patients deserve,” says Dr. Eric Grahling, founder and Medical Director of Comprehensive Pain Management of Central Connecticut.

HR can take an active role in advancing leadership by setting more ambitious standards than healthcare has been accustomed to in the past. A practical way to implement this is through a leadership pipeline, which screens physician employees and moves them through successive levels of leadership. Those who make it through all the stages in the pipeline are most likely to think outside the box.

If building a team of physician leaders seems daunting, that’s because it is. This is a huge step in the evolution of healthcare, and it won’t happen overnight. The best step HR teams can take immediately is to assess their existing staff for leadership qualities. Great soft skills and visionary attitudes can turn a doctor into a leader.

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