Empowering Physician Leaders During Times of Crisis

Director of Credentialing Programs

During our current health crisis, it is even more vital that healthcare organizations blend patient-first care with operational expertise. Physician leaders are on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis, and they’re under a lot of pressure to provide exceptional care while maintaining operational excellence.

Healthcare organizations rely on physician leadership to navigate them through crisis and change. But leaders themselves need support, too. Merging clinical and administrative functions in a physician leader produces the best results, but that requires training and ongoing support. 

The healthcare industry needs more physician leadership if it wants to achieve the goals of improved patient outcomes and cost reduction in the face of this unprecedented crisis. 

Here’s how medical staff services leaders and healthcare organizations can empower tomorrow’s physician leaders.

Identify Future Physician Leaders

Just because a physician is an excellent clinician doesn’t mean they have the skill set they need to be effective organizational leaders. Organizations have to identify which physicians have both leadership potential and a clear desire to lead before putting them in a leadership position, says Peter Angood, President and CEO of the American Association for Physician Leadership

“To gauge interest and abilities, provide opportunities for individuals to engage in different types of leadership roles,” Angood suggests. Participating in committees or taking the lead on a new initiative reveals communication or delegation skills, for example. Providing these experiences helps you determine who is cut out for leadership and who functions best in a supportive role.

Get your organization’s medical services professionals (MSPs) involved in supporting physician leaders, suggests Roxanne Chamberlain, Senior Director of Medical Staff Services at Baystate Health, Inc and President of the National Association Medical Staff Services (NAMSS). MSPs know what to look for in leadership candidates and can pinpoint physicians with leadership potential.

Provide Operational Training

In order to support and empower your physician leaders, you need to provide administrative training, such as managing healthcare supply chains. “Physicians really don’t receive formal exposure to leadership or management principles,” Angood points out. In addition to giving physicians opportunities to practice leadership, they should have access to management training modules to learn non-clinical leadership.

Here, too, MSPs play a crucial role in empowering your physician leaders. “MSPs can impart knowledge about how the medical staff works,” Chamberlain says. “They can advocate for physician leaders to make sure they receive the critical training and support they need.” MSPs have the background to identify areas where physician leaders may have gaps in their management training that could affect organizational outcomes. An inability to effectively manage a supply chain, for example, could have serious repercussions for both financial and patient outcomes.

Overcome Differences in Leadership Models

Physicians are trained clinicians, not administrators. This affects their style of leadership, which could alienate non-clinical staff. “Physicians are educated to become autonomous and independent-minded in their thinking,” Angood says, “while non-clinical leaders are used to working with teams in a collaborative fashion.” For physician leaders to be successful, the cultural differences between these leadership models must be bridged.

“Most of the physicians out there now have come from models that are very top-down and autocratic,” says Anthony Panos, Principal at Organizational Performance Group. To counter this top-down approach to leadership in the new decade, Panos suggests short leadership classes and coaching. Learning to manage interpersonal relationships across both clinical and non-clinical staff is essential for minimizing conflict and maintaining harmony between staff members. HR can offer support for physician leaders as they explore new ways of working and interacting with employees.

“Empowering physician leaders will help them fulfill the mission of the healthcare organization,” Chamberlain says. Developing and supporting emerging physician leaders today prepares your organization for whatever the future holds in a post-COVID-19 world.