Should Hospital OR Leaders Be Clinicians?

Finding a candidate with the broad array of knowledge and skills needed to lead an operating room can be daunting. Hospitals seeking a talented OR leader may prioritize previous experience, strong interpersonal skills and other leadership qualities when attempting to fill a position. Many hospitals also include medical background as a criterion and limit their search to clinicians. Other hospitals, however, believe non-clinicians are equally qualified to lead an OR. Brian M. White, president of Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Md., explains the value in being open to non-clinician OR leaders.

Initially, Northwest Hospital preferred OR leaders to be clinicians. Mr. White, who previously served as vice president of the hospital overseeing the surgical services department, decided to challenge the status quo and open applications to non-clinicians. Mr. White facilitated an exercise where he asked the surgeons and clinical leaders to write the skill sets already possessed by the existing leadership team on one side of a white board. On the other side of the board he asked them to write those skills believed to be critical success factors for the next director. This exercise suggested its next director had to have skills in strategic and financial planning and process flow improvements, among other experiences. The group decided it would lift the requirement of a nursing degree, and ultimately unanimously selected its first non-clinical leader.

While it initially was challenging for the department to embrace the change, Mr. White says, "The department has accomplished incredible accolades because it focused on the skills its team needed versus the educational background traditionally required." Currently, the department has a single director of surgical services and two OR managers who report to the director. While the OR managers are typically experienced RNs, the current director is not a clinician.

Similarly, the surgical department at Long Beach (Calif.) Medical Center and Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach fills OR management positions based on specific skills rather than medical background. "The management of Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children's Hospital Surgical Services is based upon skill sets and accountabilities for each function [within its] structure," says Dana Crompton, the hospitals' vice president of perioperative services.

Being open to both clinicians and non-clinicians can benefit the OR overall because of the multidisciplinary nature of an OR. "ORs to me are very complex because you have to have strategists — people who understand how all the moving parts connect — but then you also need people who are [expert] in their respective areas," Mr. White says. "You need a mini company of varying skill sets and experiences at the table [to effectively lead an OR]."

Related Articles on OR Efficiency:

4 Ways to Streamline Intraoperative Processes
7 of the Most Important Metrics for Measuring OR Efficiency

5 Steps to Successful Change Management in a Hospital OR

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