3 factors that can make a better physician leader

Male doctor in white lab coat
Doctors don't get a lot of training on how to be a good leader, but they can learn those skills. (Getty/Saklakova)

For physicians who don’t think of themselves as born leaders, there’s opportunity to develop those skills.

Although there may be some inherited components to great leadership, “I think leadership is something that’s learned and acquired,” Christopher M. O’Connor, M.D., CEO for Inova Heart and Vascular Institute and former chief of cardiology at Duke University, told a former student in an interview for NEJM Catalyst.

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That student, heart failure cardiologist Tariq Ahmad, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine, interviewed his former mentor, who he called one of the best leaders he has met in his career, about being a good leader. Here are three takeaways from the interview:

You can learn to be a great leader. Physicians don’t receive much leadership training, but it is a skill set that can be acquired and improved on, said O’Connor. Doctors can learn a lot from the great physician leaders they encounter.

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Apply­­­­ your life experiences to help you be a better leader. It wasn’t only good teachers, but raising four children that helped him identify and develop the talents of those he mentored, O’Connor said. He used the example of teaching a child to ride a bike. It's important to put people in experiences that might make them uncomfortable, he said, but to stand behind them so they don’t fall.

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. After spending 31 years at Duke, where he helped move its cardiology program into the top four heart and vascular centers in the country, O’Connor said it was a difficult and complex decision to leave to go to Inova, which serves the District of Columbia and northern Virginia. But O’Connor said he had accomplished the goals he set at Duke and wanted to return to his hometown to take on a new challenge.