Fierce Competition for Physician Executives: How Hospitals Can Get Ahead

Physician executives are a hot commodity for hospitals and health systems. Having physician input in the C-suite and other senior leadership positions critical for organizations as they move toward clinical integration and pay-for-performance compensation models. "It's made the role a priority," says Linda Komnick, a consultant with Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm.

Supply of experienced physician executives, however, is lagging behind the increasing demand. "[Executive leadership] takes a broader tool belt than many physicians have had," Ms. Komnick explains. "It has to be someone who understands both the clinical and business components of delivering healthcare." Many physicians who are candidates for executive positions have advanced degrees, such as a MBA or a master's in healthcare administration, in addition to their medical degree. However, not many currently possess both clinical and administrative experience. Therefore, competition for the small pool of highly qualified physicians is fierce.

Even though landing the right physician executive for an organization isn't easy, hospitals and systems stand to gain a lot from filling the position. Physician executives can have a strong positive impact on care delivery and bring a different perspective to the leadership table.

Here, Ms. Komnick suggests three ways hospitals and health systems in the market for a strong physician leader can get a jump on the competition.

1. Be nimble. Healthcare organizations that are looking to bring in an outside hire as a physician executive need to make decisions quickly. "The half-life of these candidates is pretty short, meaning most physician executives are looking at several positions at the same time," Ms. Komnick says. If an organization does not move quickly during the hiring process, it will likely lose the physician executive candidate to another, faster moving organization.

2. Get buy-in from medical staff. Even though the concept of having a physician executive is not new at most larger hospitals and systems, many smaller organizations are adding positions for physician leaders for the first time. If this is the case, it's important to be transparent with the existing medical staff. "Make sure there's alignment there, because it's a lot of work to bring someone in," explains Ms. Komnick. She also encourages hospitals to set clear expectations and goals for the positions.

3. Build up physicians. Considering the fierce competition for existing physician leaders, hospitals and health systems can begin developing their own physicians to become future executives. "Start to identify young up-and-comers or those you think would be effective leaders and start providing education," urges Ms. Komnick. "Build your own leaders from within. It's very positive and sends a good message."

Organizations can start developing physicians into leaders by putting promising candidates in committee or department leadership roles so they gain experience before taking on expanded leadership roles. Hospitals and systems can also work with local universities to set up courses in leadership or set up their own internal programs. Ms. Komnick suggests courses in finance, organizational behavior and leadership as a good start to building a physician leadership development program.

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