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The Task of Training Future Physician Leaders


Through modeling leadership behaviors and teaching the right methods to be a leader, medical training staff can make a huge difference for the success of coming generations of physicians.

There are many opportunities to be exposed to leadership during residency. Training programs should be teaching that the task of leadership truly falls upon every doctor. The increasing challenges that epitomize the period of residency and beyond might not seem like a testing ground for leadership traits, but it is the ideal time to be developing the skills you will need. Through modeling leadership behaviors and teaching the right methods to be a leader, medical training staff can make a huge difference for the success of coming generations of physicians.

Modeling Leadership Traits

Regardless of whether it is intended or not, every member of the teaching staff is modeling leadership traits to those residents that they teach. The most common traits they are demonstrating are people skills and communication skills. These are vital for a leader to be able to get the most from their team. However, modeling the wrong skills can have a negative impact as well. That is why it is so imperative to be intentional when demonstrating the following leadership traits:

• Listening is a skill that is often overlooked outside of the patient encounter. For a leader, listening is not only hearing what those around them have to say about the work environment, but it’s also about observing what is going on within the work environment when the staff is talking to each other. It is necessary for a leader to be able to notice what is going on around an organization both internally and externally. In a healthcare setting, this means paying attention to the current industry changes along with trends in employees and patients.

• Exemplifying the core values of a physician is another important trait for leaders to model for the next generation. If we do not have the integrity to adhere to the values we put forward, then we cannot expect to train future leaders with integrity. Not only that, but the organizations we are a part of are going to demonstrate the same values — or lack thereof.

• Supporting others is vital to a leader’s place in an organization. It is important that we acknowledge the contributions of others, whether it is a resident, medical student or ancillary staff. This builds up the members of the team, and reinforces the idea that they are appreciated.

• Problem solving can be key for a physician leader as we are often looked to when it comes to making decisions and dealing with tension among the team members. Helping others to see how leaders are going through the motions of tackling these tough situations can help model this behavior for others to use when handling crises.

• Garnering results. Part of a leader’s role in an organization is to achieve some specific results. This is usually achieved by having goals and objectives established. A leader is the person that lets their team know what is expected from them to achieve these goals and objectives. Staff who don’t understand what is expected from them will likely fall short.

• Serve the team. Often, a leader has authority over those that are on their team, but they are also responsible for their team. This means that they need to help those on their team, whether it is by providing support after something goes wrong or giving them guidance on how to improve their performance. We can only succeed as our teams succeed.

Methods of Training Leaders

Training the next generation of leaders isn’t just about hoping the leadership traits that are being modeled will catch on. We must be actively teaching them. There are a number of methods that can be utilized for helping trainees learn about how to be a physician leader.

• Experience is a valuable training tool for creating leaders. Teaching staff can work to put new residents into positions where they learn to lead and practice the skills necessary to be successful at it.

• Observation is vital as it allows training staff to see how their trainees will handle any given situation. These observations can often lead to teachable moments that can become a pivot point for how the trainee will go forward with their career.

• Education in leadership can often go to the wayside when it comes to instilling leadership in those entering residencies and beyond. However, it can make a world of a difference. It is important to be intentional when teaching leadership so that the trainee will recognize that he or she has the right skills and tools to use as new situations arise. Doing so will instill confidence in their ability to lead.

Leadership is not something that can be bestowed on a person just because they are placed in a position of authority. In a healthcare organization, leaders exist on every level. We do not operate on an island. Physicians must work together as team leaders, and team building must be accomplished in order to get the best care possible for the patients that rely on us. Leaders are there to build relationships and help create change that has a positive impact. Creating effective leaders today will have a lasting legacy for physicians of the future.

Christopher Burton, MD, is an Amazon best-selling author and founder of the physiciancoach.guru website. He is a consultant for medical practices and coaches physicians on areas of career development, leadership, communication, and finances. He serves as Chair for the Florida Medical Association’s Young Physicians’ Section and Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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