The Physician Leader, Part 2

What physicians and organizations need to know in the era of population health

Physician leaders are no longer made by 50 years spent in a facility, a steakhouse handshake, or a close relationship with a board member. Physician leadership positions today require quality-and qualifications. And candidates are getting serious about it. When Jordan Search Consultants recruits for physician leadership positions, we find that more than 50% of the candidates we are considering have engaged a career coach to help them improve the business side of their CV. The competition for a physician leadership role is fierce-and rightly so; these positions will be responsible for defining healthcare in the next decade and beyond.

How Can Organizations Recruit the Right Physician Leaders?

There is a strong correlation between physician-led hospitals and high hospital quality scores. Multiple studies have found that the best performing hospitals are led by physicians; overall hospital quality scores can be up to 35% higher when a physician is helming the organization. John Combes, MD and president and COO of the American Hospital Association’s Center for Healthcare Governance agrees that clinical leadership is imperative to improving the health of populations: “Putting physicians in leadership roles is critical to making the shift towards value.”

But organizations can’t just put any physician in a leadership role; they need to put the right physician there. To that point, more than 20% of the physician candidates Jordan Search Consultants assesses indicate interest in a leadership opportunity; of those, 10% or less are qualified to assume a leadership position in the current healthcare environment.

In addition to prioritizing candidates with a business, leadership or management degree, organizations should shortlist physicians with the following qualities:

  • Listener: A physician leader must be able to listen-and really hear-what colleagues are saying in order to make informed, collaborative decisions. Good listening skills often translate to enhanced conflict management abilities, too.
  • Connector: Part mediator, part listener, part intelligent communicator, a physician leader must be able to build a sense of connectivity among people and across systems.
  • Learner: A physician leader must demonstrate an insatiable curiosity-about technology, the new value as opposed to volume financials and cost centers. They must display an interest in broad, strategic matters that will add value to the organization and demonstrate a keen understanding of the competitive landscape and the overall healthcare environment.
  • Collaborative Communicator: A clinical leader must be able to articulate a value proposition to which people want to contribute. They must be able to communicate effectively at all levels of an organization and to encourage others to share their views in an open and non-judgmental environment.
  • Inspirer: With a sense of commitment to a shared purpose, much can be accomplished. That’s why a physician leader must be able to engage, develop, and motivate others to build consensus.
  • Facilitator: When evaluating for leadership, look for candidates who have skills and experiences that match the organization’s vision. Individuals who are leaders facilitate the success of others. Identify candidates who seem comfortable in facilitating and navigating change; those will be the nimble leaders today’s healthcare organization needs.

According to Dr. David Nash, founding dean of the Jefferson College of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University, this list should continue to evolve. “I think we are taking the right steps right now to be successful in the healthcare environment in the near future,” he said. “We have taken massive strides towards more comprehensively educating physicians who have shown a propensity for leadership, but as the healthcare industry continues to evolve, the qualities of a competent physician leader should similarly change.”

With more and more organizations putting “leadership” at the top of their skill wish lists for physicians, organizations can forge ahead by breaking leadership into a set of desirable qualities and traits. By more clearly defining leadership, facilities can better assess potential leadership candidates who embody the characteristics needed to accomplish the organization’s strategic goals.

Final Thoughts

In the era of population health management, the need for competent physician leaders will increase exponentially. Not only will primary care physicians (PCPs) direct care management teams to manage patient populations, but advanced practice providers, nurses, social workers, pharmacists and other non-clinical workers will also be required to lead teams and colleagues. The new paradigm necessitates it, but the statistics for best practices support it. According to a white paper published by the American Association for Physician Leadership, there is a link between physician leadership and organizational success; 21 of the 29 pioneer Accountable Care Organizations that earned bonuses from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were organizations led by physicians. Effective clinical leaders will be the determining factor for success and growth in this new healthcare environment; as such, it is imperative that physicians are well-equipped to lead and organizations are prepared to better evaluate effective leaders. The competent, effectual physician leader appropriately employed by a strategic, visionary organization will create the dynamic needed to successfully navigate this new era of healthcare and improve the health of populations nationwide.

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