3 ways to develop effective physician leaders

Doctors talking
Physician leaders ultimately need to be able to build effective teams, writes the Mayo Clinic's Charanjit S. Rihal, M.D. (Getty/wmiami)

To produce physician leaders, healthcare organizations must supplement the clinical training provided by medical schools with the skills required to take on managerial tasks in a healthcare setting. Those skill sets may not be as far apart as commonly believed.

Leadership involves a change in perspective from one narrowly focused on the needs of a particular patient or physician to a broader view of an organization, according to Charanjit S. Rihal, M.D., chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

In a post for NEJM Catalyst, he points out that medical professionals have a foundation on which to build.


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“Medicine requires critical thinking skills that are analogous to those required for effective leadership, such as assessing complex problems, formulating diagnoses, and generating action plans,” he writes.

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To apply those skills effectively on a more strategic, organizational level, healthcare facilities need to institute programs that help physicians develop a suite of complementary skills. Among the most important, according to Rihal:

  1. Promoting listening as a vital part of interactions with team members. Effective leaders encourage their team members to participate, which makes shared decision-making much easier to accomplish.
  2. Strategic thinking about both the organization itself and its place in the competitive landscape. Effective strategy provides an overall direction that leaders use as a basis for the specific steps they take to move teams and organizations toward their goals. 
  3. Building teams to bring together a foundation of effective communication and strategic skills. To develop effective groups of individuals capable of working together to solve complex problems, team members must trust one another.

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