As economic concerns continue to compete with clinical priorities, physician leaders are ever more valuable to hospitals and practices.
Yet even as demand for leadership skills grows, most newly minted physicians begin practice without formal management training. And after so many years of clinical education, new doctors typically want to focus their energies on what they’ve trained so hard to do: caring for patients. Some young physicians even pursue employment with the specific goal of avoiding the business side of medicine altogether.
Building a pipeline of physicians with leadership potential is likely a priority for your organization. But how do you do it, when the young doctors you’re recruiting are not thinking that far ahead - and may be unprepared to lead even if they are?
Here are a few ideas to help you and your organization meet this difficult and increasingly important goal.
1. Think broadly about "leadership potential"
When looking to hire physicians with leadership potential, it’s natural to consider what stands out on the CV: an advanced degree in management, for example, or a competitive chief resident job. But young physicians may have less conventional or recent experience that can also help prepare them to lead.
School sports, supervisory experience in other jobs and military experience are all examples of situations where teamwork - the essential component of leadership - is emphasized. Even physicians who aren’t thinking about a future leadership role may be able to draw on those early experiences once the time is right.
2. Cultivate from within
Some new hires will quickly demonstrate their ability to drive change within your organization without a management title. As these natural leaders emerge, offering support for pursuing an MBA or MHA can build on their potential. Make sure more experienced physicians are recognized, too, for the critical role they can play in mentoring the new generation.
3. Be a great place to work
Physicians just starting out today could be the leaders who will help guide your organization a decade from now - but only if they’re still under your roof. Nurturing the talent you attract today will help avoid early exits and burnout that deplete bench strength.
Many young physicians are more concerned about work/life balance than previous generations. More flexible schedules, financial planning advice and student loan repayment assistance are all ways to encourage your new hires to stay committed to your organization for the long term.
For older physicians who are poised to move into leadership, money concerns may loom large. Compensating doctors for administrative contributions can make these roles more appealing - especially for specialists who will lose financially if they swap clinical duties for management ones.
4. Remind physicians what’s in it for them
Studies have shown that domain expertise helps CEOs do a better job leading their organizations - especially in retaining their key employees. Physicians naturally prefer to work for professional peers who intuitively understand their concerns.
But for health care systems and practices to benefit from physician leadership, physicians must be willing to step up and lead. Otherwise, critical management decisions will continue to be made by non-physicians - which may not be the best solution for physicians or their patients.