Tips for Overcoming Physician Apathy Toward Leadership Aspiration

Training Programs, Committee Involvement Can Encourage Interest   

An organization must have an aggressive, proactive approach to the recruitment of physician leaders. Here are three tips to attract more doctors into management.

A common lament heard from medical staffs and medical groups across the country is that 80 percent of the leadership work is done by 20 percent — or maybe even less — of the physicians. It probably always has been that way, but the problem seems more pronounced in recent years.

In many hospitals and groups, there are simply too few incentives, too little personal satisfaction and not enough spare time and extra money to be offered to induce physicians readily into leadership and administrative roles. To overcome these barriers to entry, an organization must have an aggressive, proactive approach to the recruitment of physician leaders.

Here are three tips to help address this challenge:

Invite potential leaders to attend medical executive committee meetings. Most organizations have some variation of such a committee. Ask a potential leader to observe a meeting, particularly when significant issues are on the agenda. The caveat is that these meetings must be efficient and effective to demonstrate their importance. Poor meeting attendance often is attributed to a perception that there are too many time-wasting meetings where nothing is accomplished. A well-run meeting helps dispel these preconceptions.

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Place potential future leaders on an ad hoc task force. Some physicians aren’t ready to fully engage in medical staff leadership activities, but they might have a particular interest or passion in a small project to address unique or one-time issues. Participating allows potential leaders an opportunity to see effective problem-solving results from their efforts. Younger potential leaders can be paired with a senior “physician statesman” on the medical staff to serve as a coach for the project. These opinion leaders even can serve as mentors to younger (and perhaps skeptical) staff members who lack familiarity with the potential rewards of leadership.

Offer formal medical staff leadership training programs. Many physicians assume leadership roles because they are respected clinicians. But technical skill doesn’t necessarily translate into leadership ability, so don’t assume physician leaders have all of the knowledge necessary to carry out their elected or appointed positions. Give them opportunities to participate in a phased leadership development and training process to expose them over time to the necessary skills, knowledge, techniques and approaches that help them be effective leaders. It can be as simple as offering access to seminars, audio conferences, publications and consultants.

Sometimes, organizations have the necessary resources for executing an effective in-house leadership development and training program. Other times, hospitals might choose to work with outside experts or send staffers to conference seminars and other training programs. Whether done internally or externally, the training program should have high visibility in the organization, be adequately supported with financial and other resources, and be designed to encourage new physicians to get involved.

William K. Cors, MD, MMM, FAAPL, is senior medical director at Lehigh Valley Hospital in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

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