10 Steps to Leading as a Physician

10 Steps to Leading as a Physician

This post was originally published on 4/16/2013

My title at the Pennsylvania Medical Society is vice president of physician leadership in quality and value. I could also be called “head cheerleader for physician leadership.”

When I stop cheering long enough to listen, I am often asked how to take leadership.

The best physician leaders pursue a passion. (Want to know my current passion? See #2 below.)

So, whether you’re driven by dissatisfaction or even anger (how things are) or idealism (how things could be), you first must have passion and a vision. You must want to change things deeply enough that you cannot sit back and let things stay the way they are.

I have spoken to many who have said, “Yes, I used to care about that, but now…”

If you are ready to retire, or too tired to take leadership, perhaps you can support someone else to lead.
If you’re ready to lead, here are some concrete steps to get started:

  1. Seek leadership training. You can start with the PAMED Leadership Skills Academy and then decide if you want to get an MBA, join the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE), or some other way.
  2. Define your passion. Mine has evolved over the years from teaching, to quality care, to electronic health information. (See the last paragraph for more on this passion.) But as each developed, I sought opportunities to involve myself in each passion. Don’t be dismayed by temporary side trips off the main goal. Learn from everything, and be flexible.
  3. Turn a mistake or an annoyance into a tool to help your colleagues avoid doing the same thing. For instance, create a talk (if you like public speaking), and offer to give it. If there is something you’d like to correct in your clinical life, take the time to use a quality improvement process to fix it.
  4. Whatever the passion, find a way to be involved. Lead or follow a leader.
  5. Be vocal but positive. It’s easy to just criticize, but harder to suggest ways to improve. Offer to get involved in the process of improvement.
  6. Don’t become fixed in any position or opinion. Stay open to change and listen to others.
  7. Don’t allow a naysayer to dissuade you from your passion.
  8. You will have setbacks. Don’t let them stop you.
  9. Get involved: There are plenty of opportunities in your personal life, practice, community, medical staff, county medical society, and state and national medical societies to express interest in whatever you’re passionate about.
  10. Start today, make time for it (a few minutes each day to start), and do it.

A medical student in Pennsylvania felt that the editing of pictures of models was promoting unrealistic views of women, and got an AMA resolution passed opposing it, getting national press about the issue in the process.

A physician in Erie realized that care could improve in his community, and pushed, prodded and cajoled until a multi-stakeholder series of meetings were held, bringing in competing health systems, competing insurance companies, large businesses and other stakeholders in the community. They now have had a series of meetings, and are working on the defined objectives they created. (And he’s not done…)

The tired line that one person can make a difference is absolutely true. Your goals can be tiny: improve a workflow in your office. Or your goals can be huge: improving healthcare in your community. It doesn’t matter, as long as you can be passionate about it.

Be patient, define your passion, and define one thing you want to change, big or small, and figure out where to start.

If PAMED can help define a project, or help you find first steps, contact me. If you can identify things about which you have passion, we can figure out where you can work with others to improve those things.

Where has my passion led me? I’ve been working with electronic health records since the ‘90s. I now have the opportunity, as Gov. Corbett’s newly appointed chair of the board of the Pa eHealth Collaborative Authority, to play a role in how an electronic health exchange will be formed in Pennsylvania. It all started with recognizing the potential for electronic records to help improve clinical care. So my passion for quality improvement and electronic health information has led me here.

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