Enlist the help of your own leaders to help you get started.
“You could go to your CMO or your medical director—if they’re in a position to help—and ask what you need to do to get to the next step,” advises Dr. Faro. “You don’t need formal training at this point; test the waters, find what you’re interested in and make sure that leading change is something you enjoy before you [invest in] formal training.”
Dr. Faro was working as an internist in an academic medical setting when she discovered an affinity for leadership. “I went to my dean and asked to be put on committees,” she recalls. “I also worked in a volunteer capacity and did committee work for the local chapter of the American Heart Association. I ended up chairing a number of committees over the years. It just seemed to happen naturally because I enjoyed it. After these experiences, I knew I had a talent for working with disparate groups and getting things done.”
As you concentrate on committee work and project work, focus on building clinical and administrative skills.
“The most important things are having the right skills and experience,” stresses Dr. Cawley. “In my opinion, experience will count for more than skills, because people tend to assume that your skills improve as you gain experience. Experience is more important than an advanced degree, with the caveat that degrees are one way that leaders can prove themselves. Having that MBA or MPH doesn’t hurt, and it shows that you’re serious; it requires some dedication to earn that.”
Leadership Training A Must
If your committee and project experience assures you that you want to pursue a leadership path, says Dr. Cawley, “you really need leadership training. Now, is that an MBA or simply selective reading and coursework? That depends on what you want and how you want to go about it.”
However you decide to educate yourself, that leadership training should emphasize certain skills.
“You definitely need formal negotiation skills training,” says Dr. Cawley. “You should also train in how to deal with a physician who’s disruptive. You’ll need a little bit of financial training, and then leadership training itself—what is a leader and what are the expectations of a leader? These are the basics.”
Dr. Faro adds that communication skills and presentation skills are important for leaders. “These are things that physicians think they know— after all we all feel we communicate well and we need to talk to our patients—but there’s a difference between teaching your patients about medications and engaging an audience,” she warns. “It’s also important to understand your management or your leadership style.”
Leadership training is easy to find. “Every single organization has now recognized that being a leader is something that requires training,” Dr. Faro points out. Physician leadership training is offered by the American College of Healthcare Executives, the American College of Physician Executives, the American College of Physicians, and SHM.
In the growing field of hospital medicine, opportunities for advancement are growing as well. “Within just a few years, you’d be surprised what level you can reach,” says Dr. Cawley.