Learning leadership

When medicine meets leadership everything changes: culture, care, collaboration, results.

By Fred Williams, MD and Fred Beattie, MD

Physician leadership training is all the rage at the moment, with health systems, for-profit companies and government agencies sponsoring daylong, week-long and in some cases designations and degrees on the subject. Many are good repositories of information for physicians to comprehend and learn the necessary skills to become “leaders”. But why the sudden urge to train physicians in leadership?

Two reasons are often cited:
1. First, many believe our training in medical school does not lend itself to becoming a leader. When we went through medical school, for instance, the training was almost exclusively clinically based. That training is drilled into us for seven plus years. This training style is not conducive to leading a team of professionals in treating patients and getting the best results possible.

2. Because of this lack of training at the beginning of our careers, the other reason cited for physician leadership training is the need to work in a modern, team-based clinical setting. Learning how to listen, nudge people toward a goal, and understanding the importance of both clinical and administrative details is vital not only to patient treatment, but to health system adaptation to modern medical practice.

But learning the basics of Total Quality Management or other management and leadership philosophies in a classroom setting cannot replace actual hands-on leadership experience. Unfortunately, the modern practice of medicine that oftentimes requires leadership skills does not lend itself to allowing physicians to take much time to learn new skill sets when they are struggling with electronic medical record implementation, audits, preauthorizations and ongoing clinical learning, not to mention a personal life.

Learning Leadership
That is why the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) and the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care (KFMC) have collaborated to create two programs we hope will give physicians the opportunity, incentives and recognition to take on leadership positions, both in their communities and the healthcare system. KMA’s new Community Connector Program assists individual physicians with finding opportunities for leadership, along with supporting and recognizing those physicians who take on leadership roles.

Whether it might be serving on a nonprofit board, hospital medical staff leader, or the medical director of a free clinic, physicians all over the state are exercising leadership. The KFMC has also decided to enhance the Community Connector Program by offering a small number of three thousand dollar grants to non-profit organizations who are affiliated with a KMA Community Connector. RFP’s will be released soon for this new program.

In addition, the KFMC recently received a grant from The Physicians Foundation to implement a new Kentucky Physician Leadership Initiative (KPLI). This program will provide training to individual physicians on new quality measurement initiatives and encourage physicians who attend the training to apply for the same training to be performed for physicians in their local communities, coupled with a public health initiative that will be led by the physician.

A combination of hands-on experience as a leader, coupled with training, support and incentives will provide a unique opportunity for physicians around the state to be leaders. As the health system continues its massive transformation, the need for highly trained and respected physicians is more important than ever.

Skillsets for Reform

The American Hospital Association (AHA) asked its regional policy boards, governing councils and committees to identify the skills they felt physicians needed to practice and lead in a reformed environment. The results were published by the AHA’s Physician Leadership Forum in Lifelong Learning: Physician Competency Development. They cited the following:

• Leadership training
• Systems theory and analysis
• Use of information technology
• Cross-disciplinary training/multidisciplinary teams
• Understanding and respecting the skills of other practitioners

• Additional education around:
– Population health management
– Palliative care/end-of-life
– Resource management/medical economics
– Health policy and regulation

• Interpersonal and communication skills:
– Less “captain of the ship” and more “member/leader of the team”
– Time management
– Empathy/customer service
– Conflict management/performance feedback
– Understanding of cultural and economic diversity
– Emotional intelligence

Fred A. Williams, Jr. MD is the president of the Kentucky Medical Association and a member of the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care Board of Directors. Jim Beattie, MD, is president of the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and a past-president of the Kentucky Medical Association.