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How young physicians can master leadership roles


Tips on taking on a leadership position for younger physicians

One of the many privileges of advancing in your career is taking on more leadership responsibility. Many of you, at one point in the early part of your career, probably will be approached to be in charge of something, some people, or a project. My advice is to take advantage of any such opportunity. 

Taking on a leadership role earlier in your career will help you plan and become ready for more leadership roles as your career progresses-whether as a physician leader, division head, lab director, or researcher. 

Related: 10 ways physicians can become better leaders

Leadership may be natural to some, but it can easily be learned, practiced, and honed as a key skill that will only further enable you in your career. In a way, just by being a physician, you are one of the “leaders” in each patient’s care. 

Many of the lessons learned in the clinic room can be translated into leadership positions. In this article, I will share some key insights and parallels I have learned through the process of becoming an administrator of a cardiology clinic.

Step 1: Remain calm

Recently, I was invited to be in charge of clinical cardiology operations at my institution. This was a tall order for me-I am only a few years out of training. The job requires management of staff (nurses, medical assistants, and other administrative personnel), management of ancillary services, scheduling, and overall flow through the physicians’ and other providers’ clinic days.

While initially overwhelming, I thought back to my lessons in the exam room or on the hospital floor.

First, be calm and observe: I would spend more time listening and observing before reacting or taking action. I spent time learning about situations (as I would about patients) before coming up with a solution.

When staff raised issues, I took the time to investigate them. But I also realized that, just as with patients dealing with a medical condition, someone is waiting on an answer or solution, and as such, strived to find an answer as soon as possible.

With these techniques of being truly present for every issue, crisis, or “bad” day in clinic, your power as a leader can really shine through.

Step 2: Understand the pathophysiology

Making the diagnosis is always the hardest step. Spending the time to look under every stone, “test” as needed and look for the problem is always where the challenge lies. What may look alike on the outside may actually be representative of a more difficult underlying issue. 

When problems arise in workflow, or even between staff, spending the time to identify the perspective of each issue or party is critical. Seeing things from each side and demonstrating this to others is critical. 

As troubles arise when everyone is part of identifying the problem and coming up with a solution, all feel like they are important stakeholders.

Step 3: Reconcile

Unfortunately, workplace politics are rampant. Many competing interests are always at play.

In most cases, the staff involved want to do the right thing and solve a problem for the greater good. Often, turf wars are due to a misunderstanding or lack of perspective or view of the larger problem

Just as in the exam room, these issues all need to be reconciled. In the exam room the issues may be medication reconciliation, patient preferences, cultural perspectives, financial concerns or many others. There may even be a perceived “turf” war.

In the administrative role, the same sorts of issues are pervasive. Empowering your staff to help you is paramount-just the same as empowering your patients.

In many of these situations, getting everyone to meet together, face-to-face, does a lot to solve problems quickly. All opinions and perspectives should be valued and respected with a resolution that is agreeable to all.

Step 4: Plan and report

After spending the time going through an encounter, it’s time to plan and report the outcomes. The same is true in a leadership opinion.

Make plans, set deadlines, and more than anything, follow up to ensure that all goals are met. Just as you would spend the time to evaluate a patient after a treatment, evaluate your work and decisions and plans in the workplace to ensure that they are still working for all those involved or affected.

Setting longer-term follow-up is critical to ensuring that all of your plans continue to work the way you expected them to.

NEXT PAGE: Conquering your fear


Step 5: Don’t be afraid

Many times, as a leader, people will look to you for decisions when there is not a clear-cut answer. Do the research and the due-diligence in looking for the best solution.

Once you are ready, be decisive and stand behind your decision. It is important to assess the impact of your decisions continually, and be willing to revise or change a decision if things aren’t working.

Related: Leadership roles good experience for doctors

I try to let all those I work with know that trying something when there’s not a well-defined answer is the best way to learn if a potential solution will work.

Showing that you’re willing to be nimble and change things as needed often will help in situations where staff expect a certain way of doing something.

Step 6: Tying it all together

I attempt to work as an administrator much like I do when working with patient-specific problems. Using an open-ended approach involving empowered staff or patients, and a willingness to try a solution first, administrative work has proven to be rewarding and fruitful.

Step 7: Be a servant

Consider being what is commonly known as the “servant leader.” This means doing what is needed to let your staff and colleagues be their best. It means rolling up your sleeves, sweeping the floor, or seeing an extra patient or whatever it might take both to set the example and go the extra mile for your staff.

Step 8: Just do it

For those afraid to take on the headache of administration or leadership: take the plunge! It’s much easier to make mistakes earlier in your career than later, so think of such opportunities as practice that will help you  build towards perfection.

NEXT ARTICLE:How mentors can help young physicians land a job

Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP, is director of clinical cardiology and an assistant professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. This column is an honorable mention in the 2014 Medical Economics Writing Contest. Send your practice management questions to

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health