Physician Leadership Skills for Driving the Future of Healthcare

Physician Leadership Skills for Driving the Future of Healthcare
Senior Director of Marketing

As more physicians become employees, they represent a valuable potential resource for healthcare employers. Physicians who can also serve as leaders can help uphold an organization’s culture, mission and values — but only if they know how. Too often they are expected to lead without getting any training on how to do so, experts say.

“Today’s physicians, in addition to being expected to be expert clinicians and good team members, are increasingly asked to take leadership roles, despite the fact that many have never received any specialized training in how to lead,” says Leigh Ann Bradley, Chief Operating Officer at the Healthcare Experience Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the patient experience.

Here are some of the skills to look for and teach to physicians for effective leadership.


Being able to connect and communicate with patients, physician extenders, management and other stakeholders is vital for physician leadership, experts say. “Physicians must be able to communicate effectively in order to represent their needs and the needs of their teams effectively,” says Dian Ginsberg, Director of Career Services at the American Association for Physician Leadership, a Tampa, Florida-based organization dedicated to lifelong learning and growth for physician leaders.

This communication must include clinical and nonclinical audiences. “Successful physician leaders must clearly articulate the organization’s mission and values in order to fully engage their team members and garner the support of all stakeholders,” Ginsberg says. “The ability to effectively lead clinical and nonclinical teams in a respectful, trustworthy and clear way is critical for physician leaders.”

Change Management

Change is almost a constant in healthcare. As organizations tackle evolving reimbursement models, value-based care and a talent shortage in the face of increasing demand, physicians who can help facilitate change can serve as strong leaders in uncertain times. Not only do they need to help others manage change, they must also be able to lead through changes and get buy-in from others on their teams.

“A physician leader must be agile and capable of accepting and driving change,” Ginsberg says. “In the rapidly changing world of healthcare, physician leaders must understand their approach to change and be able to quickly identify stakeholders’ approach to change in order to facilitate rapid and sustainable change.“


Healthcare is a highly collaborative environment, and physicians who are willing to work closely with the care team can help serve as leaders within the organizations as well. Successful physician leaders are able to connect with the team members, patients and administrators to facilitate the organization’s goals and establish the meaningful relationships required to drive the organization’s mission, Ginsberg says.

Physician leaders are adept at holding peers accountable as well, says Terrence McWilliams, Chief Clinical Consultant for HSG, a healthcare consulting firm in Louisville, Kentucky. As models and drivers of the organization’s culture, they must balance individual autonomy with system expectations and advocate for both the patient and the system, he says.

Business and Financial Management

Physicians who have some skills in business operations or financial management can be an asset to healthcare organizations that are looking to boost value, experts say. “General competencies in healthcare finance, healthcare law and negotiation skills are essential to the success of physician leaders,” Ginsberg says. Older physicians who may have experience running their own practices before becoming employees may have the business skills organizational leaders are looking for.

Physicians can serve as leaders in the organization, but only if they have the right skills. “Healthcare leaders can expect physicians to provide a much-needed leadership element when those physician leaders are supported and invited to lead in areas that are personally and professionally meaningful to them,” Bradley says. Identifying the skills you need in your organization and providing the support for physicians to build those skills can help make your organization stronger.

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