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Walk the Walk


If you’re early in your career as a hospitalist but plan to become a leader within your department or practice, you can start immediately.

Before your first assignment to take charge of a team or project, start “walking the walk.” In other words, exhibit leadership skills and traits on the job, in committees and in conversations, and you’ll draw attention to your potential for a chair position and position yourself for that first rung on the leadership ladder.

Demonstrate Key Skills

Career Nugget

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You don’t need a graduate-level class or a management textbook to practice some crucial leadership skills. Start at the most basic level: how you come across to everyone you interact with. Be on time, attend all meetings you are involved with, and come to those meetings prepared.

“Presenting yourself well is always good,” says Eric E. Howell MD, director of Collaborative Inpatient Medicine Service, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, and course director for SHM’s Leadership Academy. “Speak clearly, be courteous and pleasant but not overly friendly, make eye contact … and one of my bosses once told me dress for your next job.” When you have an administrative meeting, change out of your dirty scrubs and into something businesslike.

As you perform your daily work, consider how you interact with other physicians and hospital staff.

“A hospitalist on a clinical team who is an effective communicator, who does things in a timely manner, is exhibiting leadership potential,” states Dr. Howell. “They’ll interact with their team, take quick, corrective action when necessary and give feedback in real-time in a way that’s not threatening.” As a director within a department of medicine, Dr. Howell chooses leaders regularly, and says, “That’s the first thing I look at when I’m looking for someone to fill a place on a committee.”

Ken Simone, DO, founder and president of Hospitalist and Practice Solutions in Brewer, Maine, agrees interaction with work teams is one place for an ambitious hospitalist to shine.

“Leaders have vision—and they create a common vision for the team,” he says. “They lead by example. A leader will work in the trenches and convey a positive attitude.”

Talk the Talk

Prove that you’re a problem-solver. This is a very useful trait and will show you as a potential leader.

—Eric E. Howell MD, director of Collaborative Inpatient Medicine Service, Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore

As you practice basic leadership skills in your everyday work, you can take the next step. Develop and share your own opinions and insights on matters of quality improvement or standard processes and procedures.

“A hospitalist can display his or her leadership potential by sharing ideas and perspectives directly with the committee chair, department chiefs, chief medical officer or vice president of medical affairs, hospitalist clinical director, hospital CEO or COO,” Dr. Simone says. “It’s important for individuals seeking leadership positions to actively engage established leaders on the medical staff and in the medical community and share thoughts and ideas. True leaders are not afraid to take chances or expose themselves.”

Shine on Committees

Once you’ve earned a spot on one or more committees—or task forces or other official teams—you’ll have real opportunities to demonstrate your leadership potential.

“I’ll watch to see if the person participates,” says Dr. Howell of new committee members. “If you’re interested in leadership, you need to be a productive, active participant.”

There are many ways to be an active participant, even as a brand new committee member. “They may demonstrate their leadership skills by sharing their ideas during the meeting, by volunteering to spearhead an initiative that needs oversight, by chairing an ad hoc committee, by helping to facilitate the committee’s goals, or by sharing their experience in a similar situation,” Dr. Simone says. “They may also demonstrate their leadership abilities by being well prepared and informed on the agenda topics for the meeting.”

When you join committee discussions—or even discussions at a general staff meeting or departmental meeting—do your best to share insights and ideas rather than complaining.

“You must be able to express your views in an eloquent way,” instructs Dr. Howell. “If you disagree with [the chair or another committee member], you have to present another view or solution. Prove that you’re a problem-solver. This is a very useful trait and will show you as a potential leader.”

When an opportunity comes up to increase your participation, take it. “If you’re asked to help on a project that may be administrative or nonclinical, it’s important to say yes and to apply yourself to that project,” Dr. Howell says. “Do that, and people will think of you when it’s time to replace the chair of that committee.”

Training Helps

Although you don’t need formal training to start your leadership career, taking some steps can certainly help your cause.

“If you’re looking to advertise yourself as a leader, I like the people who have invested in themselves,” Dr. Howell says. “Those who have attended SHM’s Leadership Academy or otherwise taken efforts to improve themselves will stand out. It shows that they can be properly motivated, even if they don’t yet have the appropriate leadership skills.”

If you want to pursue leadership education—to gain important skills and to prove your motivation—Dr. Simone suggests you:

  • Attend SHM Leadership Academy I and II;
  • Attend hospitalist program management seminars;
  • Attend business courses or complete an MBA program;
  • Mentor with leaders within the hospital community;
  • Participate in medical staff business and gain experience by exposure and participation; and/or
  • Participate in your hospital’s medical staff leadership track if one exists.

Regardless of whether you decide to invest time and money into formal leadership training at this stage of your career, you can begin to position yourself as a leader by talking the talk and walking the walk.

“Involvement (e.g., attendance), active participation, preparation, and prudent risk-taking, to name a few examples, may be a recipe for success for aspiring young leaders,” summarizes Dr. Simone. TH

Jane Jerrard is a medical writer based in Chicago.

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