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Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders


Women physicians now comprise 50 percent or more of most U.S. medical school classes. Yet relatively few fill the most senior management positions within the healthcare system. At a time when most agree that the U.S. healthcare delivery system needs fundamental change, this book makes the case for talented women physician executives, articulate in the language of healthcare policy and business, to be among those leading the way.

In Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Physician Leaders, editor and author Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA, profiles 33 exceptional women physicians who have defied the odds. They share their personal and compelling stories — including obstacles and challenges faced in balancing work, family, and personal life — as their career paths take them from clinical medicine to leadership within government, academia, hospitals, provider groups, managed care, pharma, consulting, and entrepreneurial venture. The lessons they learned are relevant not only to women and do not apply just to healthcare—they are universal.

The stories (which are actually “case studies”) illustrate the trailblazing and creativity of a group of professional women who understand how to use processes and procedures to manage the complexities of large organizations and how to exercise leadership to motivate and lead others through change and uncertainty.

This anthology of the experiences and achievements of women physician leaders is a highly diverse, always inspiring, and content-rich resource that’s valuable whether a physician is just starting out or at a turning point in life and career.

Lessons Learned is a distinctive resource, addressing such topics as:

  • Career options after medical training.

  • Leadership opportunities beyond a traditional clinical setting.

  • Challenges for women in the workplace, discrimination, salary discrepancies, and different expectations.

  • Role models, mentorships, and sponsorships at the leadership level.

  • Work-life balance.

Readers of Lessons Learned will gain insight into real-life career journeys. By sharing their personal experiences—the challenges and the triumphs—these remarkable women empower each other and other women like them who are forging their own paths as physician leaders. There is a collective pride in what they have accomplished.

The diversity of career paths and personal circumstances offer a wide variety of experiences and dimensions of relatability difficult to find elsewhere. These women come from all walks of life, have faced and overcome many challenges, and demonstrated creativity in their career choices. As readers consider and reflect on each physician’s path, they are inspired to reflect on and explore their own.

These physician leaders are making a difference and inspiring other physicians to achieve higher levels of leadership, including positions with wide-ranging responsibilities.

Bonus #1:  Many chapters include a vignette about leadership and how to navigate the complex environment of an often male-dominated upper echelon work environment. It provides an opportunity to know there is a support system in a physician’s career journey. 

Bonus #2:  Virtually all the women in this book are willing to mentor and share advice. They can provide a valuable resource for young physicians looking for support. Contacts are available through the editor Dr. Deborah Shlian.

About Author(s)
Table of Contents

Editor: Deborah M. Shlian, MD, MBA, is a board-certified family practitioner with more than three decades of clinical and management experience. Dr. Shlian has been able to balance work life with writing, producing several nonfiction articles, chapters, and books on medical management issues. She also writes fiction. All her works of fiction have won literary awards, including the Florida Book Award’s Gold Medal.

For over 45 years.

The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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AAPL providers leadership development programs designed to retain valuable team members and improve patient outcomes.

American Association for Physician Leadership®

formerly known as the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE)