What Do Employed Physicians Have to Do to Get Ahead?

Leigh Page


November 18, 2015

In This Article

You Need to Have a Certain Skill Set

Working on a committee, interacting with other parts of the organization, and ultimately taking on an administrative role require a certain skill set, according to Linda Komnick, who recruits physician-executives for Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm.

"You need what we call 'soft skills,'" she says. "You have to have the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively and to deal with organizational politics. You have to understand how to motivate others and know how to inspire and empower others. And you need to know how to build a consensus across a broad spectrum of constituent groups."

Soft skills are essential for an administrative post, Dr Jahn says. "You're the interface between the administration and physicians," he says. "You can't be a bull in a china shop." The physician-administrator is "the change agent," he explains. Many rank-and-file physicians are wary of the changes going on throughout healthcare, such as healthcare IT; greater use of population health management; and new payment mechanisms, such as bundled payments. "As a physician-administrator, you need to be willing to deal with those changes and explain them to others," he says.

As you move up the leadership ladder, having a mentor can help, Dr Angood advises. "Mentors can be peers, nonclinical administrators, or doctors who are already in administration," he says. "They can help you understand the environment, learn how to balance clinical and leadership roles, or provide confidential feedback on your performance." His association offers a mentorship-matching program. "Like in a dating service, prospective mentors and protégés fill out questionnaires to find the right fit," he says.

Working With Others Helps Build Leadership Skills

Many physicians looking to get ahead get a master's degree in business administration (MBA) or degrees that closely fit a physician-administrator's work, such as the certified physician executive (CPE) degree awarded by Dr Angood's association.

But Dr Jahn doesn't view such degrees as all that important. "They're not hiring you because of your MBA," he says. "It's because of your medical background." He has a CPE degree, but it took him 25 years to earn it, owing to his busy schedule. He says he was more interested in the courses than in the degree itself—courses on such issues as quality of care and malpractice.

In fact, most physician executives don't have a business degree. In a 2010 Witt/Kieffer survey of healthcare CEOs,[1] only 30% said their most senior physician-leader has a business or medical management degree, but 21% of the positions required a degree. However, Komnick says a degree can help. "Experience is more important than having an MBA, but having both is even better," she says.

Although courses toward a degree can provide a great deal of useful knowledge, working directly with others is still the best way to gain leadership skills, according to Dr Hanak. For example, he just finished a 1-year term as chair of the Young Physicians Section of the American Medical Association.

In a county, state, or national medical society, "you have an opportunity to build personal relationships with peers and mentors and learn leadership skills," he says. "You gain the ability to adapt, which is probably one of the more important qualities of leadership. Also, you begin to think in terms of the big picture. It's hard to see the big picture when you're spending 95% of your time in clinical practice."

Dr Buckley has also taken a leadership role in organized medicine. Since joining the Maryland State Medical Society, known as MedChi, she has developed an expertise in state legislation and has formed relationships with several legislators. At age 39, she is currently serving as MedChi's president-elect.


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