Good medical leadership is critical to delivering high-quality care to patients. In hospitals and other large medical institutions, doctors in management or executive positions add a considerable amount of value by forming a bridge between the needs of clinicians and patients and those of the administration, government or funder.
And yet leadership skills have traditionally been a low priority in medical training, which puts far more emphasis on technical and academic ability. But moving from a caregiver role to a leadership one isn’t easy.
Being an effective medical leader clearly requires different skills than what’s needed from a good clinician. In fact, the skills set can sometimes be diametrically opposite. A good clinician, for example, needs to be something of a micromanager, personally checking and ensuring that all ordered tests have been done and the results transmitted. But good leaders can’t micromanage; they need to be comfortable delegating responsibilities to others.
Here are some key tips for aspiring medical leaders:
Seek out experience and mentoring from an established leader: you learn to be a leader by being a leader yourself, and by learning the skills from others;
Research the skills you need, get an understanding of what you’re not so good at, and seek training. If public speaking isn’t your forte, for example, you can be coached into being a better speaker.
Communication is key: it’s critical to be able to create and communicate a vision, setting a clear direction and working collaboratively towards it.
Communication also means listening: this doesn’t always come easy to clinicians, who often spend a lot of time telling patients about their condition and explaining to them what they need to do. But in leadership roles, you need to seek out the opinions of the team in forming your decisions.
Don’t get lost in minutiae: deal with the here-and-now, but keep an eye on what the future should look like. Good medical leaders have the ability to step back and focus on the big picture, taking a macroscopic view of healthcare and resource allocation.
Stay positive and empathic: you’re working in a very high-pressure sector rife with burnout and depression. You must be encouraging and positive, and impart your positivity to your staff.
Sources: BMJ, MJA.
Click here to access information on the AMA’s Diploma of Leadership and Management – a nationally recognised qualification for doctors and healthcare providers seeking to develop their skills in the management of staff, workplace relations, operational planning, project administration, financial and budget management.