Effective Physician Leadership – create a career path. Part 3

Thoughts and ideas from The Physician Executive
Effective Physician Leadership – create a career path. Part 3
January 25, 2018 at 12:00 AM
by The Physician Executive
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I ended my conversation about physician leadership with Jennifer Perry, the healthcare principal at FMG Leading and Dr. Matt Brubaker, CEO of FMG Leading, in Part 3. [here are Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them].

Philippa: I hear you reference a multidimensional approach to developing physicians as leaders within a healthcare system. Your process isn’t just a one-size-fits-all. Instead, you encourage tailoring the overall physician leadership development path to each organization’s needs, by taking an intentional, thoughtful, systemic approach that’s going gradually foster increasing levels of physician leadership development over a career.

Jennifer: Yes, it’s a multi-modal learning model, and it’s important to make that learning sticky. If you’re really going to build that capacity and the necessary skill set, it’s about setting physician leaders up to practice and embed these skills in ways that have specific meaning to them, in their role and in their job.

Philippa: I agree — it’s very easy to fall into the trap of just imparting knowledge, giving people information, and not really contributing to actual growth and development.

Matt: If you have the time to do it right, focus on designing physician jobs and roles carefully. The organizational structure even in a healthcare delivery system can be designed with progressive physician leadership development in mind. And it doesn’t have to cost more. The reality is the way a job is structured, the way supervision happens, and the way reviews take place can be done to facilitate learning about physician leadership. It may take a long time, but there are intentional ways to do this that are cultural and systemic.

Philippa: I can also see the how those folks who help them design this approach could add the benefit and rigor of helping the healthcare system identify and calculate a return on investment (ROI) for a coaching or leadership development program. It is not terribly complicated to demonstrate an ROI for an organization’s training and development programs if this is tackled up front and the data is continuously captured as the program unfolds.

Jennifer: Absolutely. We’ve seen that, in working with many clients, engagement increased dramatically, not only among the physician leaders but among that group that they were leading, in addition to other outcomes. That one comes to mind immediately from an ROI perspective in terms of an organizational metric we’ve been able to demonstrate.

Philippa: That’s got to have some kind of bottom line impact, I would imagine.

Jennifer: Absolutely, from a retention and turnover perspective.

Philippa: So, over the years that you’ve been doing this physician leadership work, particularly in healthcare, what have you discovered that’s been most surprising to you?

Jennifer: Most surprising? One thing that comes to mind most immediately is helping physicians back to their identity. Going from being practicing physicians to physician leaders is oftentimes called, unkindly, becoming a “suit”. It is important to help physician leaders realize that they don’t have to lose their physician identity. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t in terms of staying connected, building credibility, and staying focused clearly on their passion for patient care and what’s required to deliver that, from a broader organizational perspective.

The other thing that has surprised me is just how many physician leaders are good at this leadership piece. I think this may be an important solution to the problem of physician burnout. The more physician leaders there are who are really skilled and effective and powerful in their roles, the more I see them as part of the solution in terms of building engagement, and helping other physicians do their job more effectively.

Matt: My response about surprise is how difficult a career this is for physicians. It’s also, by the way, difficult for executives or business-trained executives who lead in healthcare. But there’s something about the psychology of sacrificing tremendously to become a physician. There’s a sort of end-of-the-rainbow thought of, “I’ve finished medical school. I’ve made it to the place where I have the position that I want and the level of sort of financial success that matches that” and then there’s the amount of one’s actual life that is leveraged in order to get there, and the quality of balance and family relationships and all the other things that suffer along the way.

So that when you mentioned burned out, Jen, it triggered that for me. I’ve been surprised at how much suffering there is in the population we serve and how difficult it is for physicians to be honest about that, and even in some of our clients who are extremely large, employers and physicians, how much they’ve had to devote resources to preventing things like physician suicide and very difficult life transitions for physicians. So that’s been a big surprise for me. And I think it’s gotten worse. I think we could all agree that the system is converging in such a way that it makes things even more difficult.

Jennifer: I would add only one other thing that has struck me, and this came up at a leadership conference we were at with physicians. A physician in the audience talked about how difficult that physician leader role is sometimes, having to give up being the expert and knowing all the answers, and having instead to ask good questions and lead with a spirit of inquiry. It has surprised me how challenging that is for many physicians who are trained to give answers and be right.

Philippa: Well, I can attest to that personally because I, as a family physician, went into coaching many years ago with a somewhat arrogant attitude of “I’m trained in biopsychosocial stuff as a family physician. So this coaching thing, I’m going to get some training only because I need a credential behind my name”. Was I wrong! I was humbled after my first weekend of coaching training to discover just how vastly different the world is from the coach’s perspective. I’m no longer providing all the solutions and the answers. I focus on having my clients uncover their own answers. And earlier, as a physician moving into administration, I discovered that the shift to leadership is similar.

Philippa: Matt and Jennifer, I’m going to let you tell us a little bit about FMG Leading to end our conversation.

Matt: Thank you. We are a large-scale change and human capital strategy firm with a robust practice in the healthcare space, which Jennifer leads. Our core passion is helping drive the human side of change. So the things that are hard to measure or hard to extract in a sort of quantifiable way, we tend to bring analytics to and to bring methods and structures to ensuring that people are hearing and engaging with and have the tools to carry out change.

We love what we do. It’s not for everyone but this kind of work which is a hybrid of management, consulting and organizational psychology, is a calling for us. And we are always very honored to work in healthcare where the connection to purpose is so easy to see and relate to.

Jennifer: I think healthcare is unique in many ways. And bringing both the healthcare experience and industry expertise along with the organizational development frame and reference has been really powerful for our clients in terms of knowing what they’re facing and, at the same time, helping them navigate this complex world at an individual leader, a team, and a broad organizational level. We work in all three of those realms to enhance physician leadership capacity and organizational outcomes.

Philippa: Thank you both for a most enlightening conversation and I wish you great success.