Talent

Nurturing the Missing Leadership Skills of Doctors

Some experts argue that physicians generally lack the kinds of leadership skills that are essential for their success in complex healthcare organizations in which they, by virtue of their seniority, prestige, and expertise, are naturally looked to for leadership.doctor
In a previous post, we discussed the reasons physicians need leadership skills in the first place. In a second post, we discussed the specific skills that are crucial for effective physician leadership. Here, in our final post on this topic, we’ll talk about some potential structural remedies to address these shortcomings.

Medical School Leadership Instruction

Harvard Business Review researchers argue that the medical education system could learn something from other professions when it comes to leadership development.
“Formal education on these topics could take the form of dedicated didactics during medical school and residency training, orientation sessions, and skill-building retreats, which are common in other occupations that require managerial development,” they write. “At least some teaching should be delivered longitudinally over multiple years.”
Clearly physicians must have a strong clinical focus throughout their educational careers. But these researchers make a good argument for the importance of leadership skill development. There is certainly a place for this type of instruction, focus, and experiential learning within the medical school curriculum.

Requirements for Trainee Advancement

The researchers argue that the process by which medical trainees and residents advance through their programs could serve as an intentional bottleneck that holds trainees back until they have demonstrated the necessary leadership skills to succeed in their practices. “Residents should not be allowed to progress in training without achieving pre-specified proficiency in these areas,” they say.
Currently, most physicians rise through the ranks based on their medical skills and proficiencies. But, rising through the ranks inherently means that these physicians will be placed in leadership roles that many have not yet been properly trained for.
Building in requirements for the demonstration of leadership competencies can help ensure that physicians with the best leadership potential—and not, necessarily, just the best medical skills—will rise to leadership positions.
Few physicians probably go into the practice of medicine with the primary intention of becoming leaders. But the reality is, they are often thrust into leadership roles due to the dynamics of healthcare institutions.
While many physicians may be lacking in what are seen as some essential leadership capabilities, there are means by which these skills can be nurtured at many stages, from medical school right through ongoing practice.