What Are the Responsibilities of Physician Leaders? | David Couper Consulting

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What Are the Responsibilities of Physician Leaders?

Posted by Josh Espinosa on August 06, 2019 8:07 AM
What Are the Responsibilities of Physician Leaders?

Research shows that healthcare leadership roles have a turnover rate of almost 20% and newly hired executives often fail within 18 months. Because of these employee turnover rates rising throughout the industry, healthcare administers are increasingly recruiting and hiring leaders from within their current workforce. 

With the costs of replacing leadership so high, organizations can’t afford hiring failures to that extent, and many clinics and hospitals have found a lot of success in promoting their best physicians to executive roles. 

While it may seem like a perfect fit -- doctors leading hospitals -- the truth is, it’s not as simple as it may seem and can often be wrought with challenges. The thing is, doctors, especially ones with solid reputations, are typically really good at the treatment aspect of healthcare, but often don’t have the critical training required to succeed in the administrative or customer service side of things. You know, the stuff that has nothing to do with medicine at all.

Overall, a healthcare organization is a different animal than your average corporation, but much of the same business principles apply. You need to not only have a decent product, but you also need to have solid direction, operations, and customer relations.

Let’s explore how this can be applied to your physician leaders and get a better understanding of what they can expect when it comes to directing your hospital or clinic toward better treatment outcomes, higher patient satisfaction scores, and a bigger bottom line.


Take into Account the Entire Healthcare Environment

If a physician leader had no medical training, what would he or she be? A conventional healthcare manager. If that sounds like a trick question, consider the fact there are models of good healthcare leaders everywhere in the industry, most of whom never took a day of residency.

In fact, that managerial skillset has been critical to healthcare ever since the Mayo brothers started working in a Minnesota cornfield over a century ago.

As boring as it may sound, leadership is largely about people and data management and then making decisions based on the information derived from it. When it comes to the business side, finances and operations are just as important as the product. In many ways, they are floatation devices that save the product from drowning. And face it, plenty of good products have failed due to mismanagement of money and processes.

It's imperative for physicians who wade in the administrative waters to open their eyes to these types of concepts. No longer is healthcare just about treatment, it’s also about human resources, the IT department, silos, and even the good doctors' retirement plan.


Delegate Well

Of course, your organization did not hire its best doctor to pick out the most cost-effective cleaning solution to mop the floors with. But, there will always be people who are needed to carry out these types of tasks in a hospital or clinic’s day-to-day operation. And there are still more people who lead those people. Because of this, the physician leader’s best card to play is delegation.

Any higher up can tell you that delegating responsibilities and tasks is one of the hardest of the leadership skills to become comfortable with. Many of the best leaders are hands-on, if not a little bit on the controlling side. But it’s also one of the most useful skills because it allows physician leaders the freedom to work on main objectives while letting others use their specific gifts and experience to move the needle forward.

Besides, if we’re being realistic here, physicians who become leaders are kind of getting thrown into the deep end when it comes to the business side of things. They’ve spent their entire careers being doctors, not managers, and building experience in management takes time. A lot of that inexperience can be offset with good delegation. If physicians who become leaders can learn to build trust in people who can help out with the blind spots, they don’t have to be 100% responsible for the nitty-gritty of the healthcare environment.


Set Direction and Organizational Goals

Even though you may lose some managerial experience when promoting physicians into leadership roles, studies show that the pros outweigh the cons. A report by The Harvard Business Review found that when physicians lead healthcare organizations, there are higher levels of job satisfaction all around.

Plus, reputable doctors typically have loads of peer-to-peer credibility. And since they’ve been on the front lines of treatment, they are more likely than other leaders to create a realistic environment and set realistic goals.

This is where healthcare management is different than other types of business management. It may not be all about treatment, but treatment is probably the most important product across all industry markets.

At the end of the day, setting a clear and sustainable model for treating people’s health should be a top priority for any physician leader.


How Can Your Physician Leaders Succeed?

Building a solid leadership pipeline can save healthcare organizations millions of dollars annually by reducing turnover and recruitment costs. In fact, some hospitals have even slashed their turnover rates in management by almost 25% with their investments in leadership development.

While any successful physician leader needs to have the respect of his or colleagues, it’s also important for them to become savvy business people, strategic visionaries and even customer service gurus.

Some of the best hospitals and clinics hire leadership development firms that can help train your physician leaders with highly-specialized programs designed specifically for your organization’s unique ecosystem.

But you can also start by putting the bug in your leaders’ ears about what areas they need to learn to be strong in from the beginning. Learning the ability to motivate others as well as how to communicate effectively are some of the hallmarks of strong leaders. There’s also a lot to say about listening and empathy.

For more information on how we can help your physicians effectively move into leadership roles, send us a message at Info@DavidCouperConsulting.com.



Josh Espinosa is a freelance writer and designer. He also founded the Approachable Music project, a music education business on a mission to make learning to play easier and more efficient.

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