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What Physician Leadership Means Now - And Why it Matters

FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton has worked closely with state and national physician leaders in organized medicine for more than 20 years. In the following Q&A, he discusses the importance of giving young physicians a voice, what effective leaders have in common, and creating accessible, modern professional development resources for all FMA members.

Q: Doctors have always been at the forefront of shaping health care, but what makes new physician leadership especially urgent today?

A: We are in an age of constant change in health care and ever-increasing demands are being placed on physicians. This has created extraordinary challenges but also tremendous opportunities for physicians.

There is a considerable amount of data demonstrating that physicians hold the key to improving health care in the United States. If you look at the rankings of the best hospitals in the country, those at the top of the list are physician-led institutions. A study of the country's 100 best hospitals published in U.S. News and World Report in 2011 showed that hospital quality scores are approximately 25-percent higher in physician-run hospitals. In addition, recent analysis shows that physician-led accountable care organizations (ACOs) have been far more successful than hospital-led ACOs in achieving cost savings.

The bottom line is that physician leadership is what differentiates successful health care organizations and delivery models from those that are struggling to balance the competing goals of quality and cost. Heath care organizations are starting to recognize that the key to their success is having a pool of physician leaders who can help drive change. That is why you are seeing hospitals, medical societies and business schools developing physician leadership programs across the country.

Q: What have you observed as some common characteristics of effective physician leaders?

A: What I have noticed over the years is that the best physician leaders are those who have mastered the concept that leadership is about persuasion and influence rather than positions or titles. To be effective at leading others, you first have to be self-aware and understand the concept of emotional intelligence. This is not something that physicians learn about in medical school. In fact, the command-and-control environment that physicians are trained in might actually work against them when it comes to developing leadership skills. The personal attributes of the most effective physician leaders are that they are authentic, humble, supportive, optimistic and inspirational.

Q: How are the FMA's young, emerging leaders making an impact on the organization's direction, and how do their generational perspectives influence the overall mission of helping physicians practice medicine?

A: One of the FMA's biggest challenges is balancing generational differences within the medical community. The new physicians coming out of medical school and residency training programs have a different perspective. They embrace new technologies like telemedicine and electronic health records because that has been part of their curriculum and training. They are far less resistant to change because they have been brought up in the era of the Internet, smart phones and apps.

Like many organizations, the FMA is in a period of transformation. Our strength lies in our diversity, and the FMA represents all physicians no matter what their specialty is, whether they are independent or employed, or whether they practice in a hospital or ambulatory setting. Over the last decade, the face of the FMA has changed. We have more young physicians who are engaged, more female physician members, and more diversity in our leadership. Are we perfect? No, but we are moving in the right direction and our organization is starting to better reflect the physician community as a whole. Our young, emerging leaders are helping to reshape the FMA in a very positive way.

Q: Now that the Karl M. Altenburger, M.D. (KMA) Physician Leadership Academy is in its seventh year, what role has it played in bringing younger members into the FMA's leadership fold?

A: Our goal when we started the KMA Physician Leadership Academy was always two-fold: To develop a more diverse leadership pipeline for the FMA, and to provide young physicians with the tools and skills they need to take on leadership roles within their hospitals, group practices and/or their communities.

I am extremely proud of the fact that graduates of the Leadership Academy now serve on the FMA Board of Governors, and on every one of our council and committees, which provide policy guidance to the Board. The FMA is much stronger than it was six years ago because we now have a strong pool of emerging leaders who will lead this organization for the next 25 years.

Q: What is the FMA doing to create more leadership training opportunities for members?

A: The Leadership Academy has been a huge success story. We have trained at least 10 physicians each year. However, due to the hands-on nature of the program, space is limited. We are working on scaling our leadership development offerings to reach a larger number of physicians, because there is a real demand for this type of program across the state.

We also know that physicians are busy and not everyone can give up an entire weekend five times a year. Many physicians, understandably, are not willing to sacrifice time with their families in order to participate in a few weekend courses. Therefore, we are developing an online platform where FMA members can access different learning modules on their own time. So, stay tuned because we will be rolling out these new opportunities in the coming months.

In my opinion, this has the potential to be one of the most exciting membership benefits that the FMA has provided for physicians who are looking for ways to develop leadership skills and enhance their careers.

-- Erika D. Peterman, FMA Managing Editor

Article reprinted from Florida Medical Magazine with permission from the Florida Medical Association.



 
 
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