8 key trends in physician leadership

Physician leaders have been traditionally appointed based on their case volume; the busiest clinicians took on administrative responsibilities for the department. However, the physician leader role today requires true leadership and business skills along with emotional intelligence and self-awareness. 

In a panel discussion at the Becker's Hospital Review 5th Annual CEO+CFO Roundtable on Nov. 9, 2016, Executive Vice President and CMO of Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic Patrice M. Weiss, MD; Vice President, Senior Executive Search of Lenexa, Kan.-based B.E. Smith Lydia Ostermeier; CEO of Chicago-based Hartgrove Behavioral Health System Steven Airhart; and Chief of Anesthesia of Melville, N.Y.-based North American Partners in Anesthesia Steven Hattamer, MD, discussed the changing role of physician leaders. Becker's Hospital Review Editor-in-Chief Molly Gamble moderated the session.

"When I started, the expert practitioners were all CMOs," said Ms. Ostermeier. "But now they have to have a different skill set to lead. Hospitals are looking for folks who went beyond their degrees to achieve an MHA, CPE, MBA, or got lean training to enhance that skill set. They are also looking for someone who is highly persuasive and can bridge the gap in the executive team."

Here are eight key thoughts from the panel on physician leadership:

1. Physician leaders shouldn't want the role because they are burnt out by their clinical practice. "If the physician is burnt out on medicine, you don't want them to be a champion of your physicians at the hospital," said Mr. Airhart. "You want someone who is willing to be a change agent, respected and a unifier."

2. The best leaders are those who have experience volunteering to chair committees or have served in roles such as president of the medical staff to show their passion for leadership.`

3. Important qualities for future physician leaders include:

• Decisiveness
• Confidence
• Good communication skills
• Familiarity with the regulatory process
• Has the respect of other physicians

4. Physician leaders take on extra responsibilities while maintaining work/life balance. Dr. Weiss advised physician leaders enjoy their work and maximize the time they aren't at the office

"The MD executives I work with are truly amazing individuals," said Ms. Ostermeier. "These physicians are holding executive roles, going back to school, conducting research, writing, speaking and coaching their child's soccer team. They are going from one thing to another. Work/life balance is different for each individual."

5. Even after taking on a leadership role, physicians should continue with clinical work. "All physician leaders at our hospital have some degree of clinical work, including the CMO," said Dr. Weiss. "It adds credibility. But the hospital must give them support."

6. Compensation for physician leadership depends on the role, experience and specialty. The compensation for some leadership positions is calculated as a percentage of the physician's salary while others are a flat rate. For some highly paid specialties, there is a negative incentive to take on the leadership role because their compensation would go down.

7. Outcomes are now tied to reimbursement in many cases and physician leaders are learning more about the financial side of running the department. Then, the physician leaders can inspire others to embark on quality improvement and cost savings projects. "They'll learn about cost accounting and problem solving," said Dr. Hattamer. "They will learn to speak the language of the C-suite."

8. Mentorship is important for physician leaders, even in the C-suite. "All folks in healthcare need a strong mentor," said Ms. Ostermeier. "They need an instructor or someone who has inspired them before. There is bound to be someone who can reconnect them to their purpose."

Carilion Clinic invests in provider wellness programs to combat burnout. "When providers are involved in unanticipated outcomes, or medical errors, we need a full support system for them," she said. "We need to validate burnout, so we put an organizational process in place."

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