Dr. Nasim Afsar’s article of June 2, 2017 (“A case for building our leadership skills”) calls for the integration of leadership skills into medical training, and we at the University of Colorado wholeheartedly agree. There are several institutions around the country that are already addressing this problem head on, and we write this letter to highlight a few educational programs we’ve created that demonstrate the power of arming our trainees with this skill set. Furthermore, we wish to encourage collaboration between educators and institutions that are engaged in similar work in the hopes of moving this field forward.
Here at the University of Colorado, a team of Hospital Medicine faculty has created a number of programs to address the leadership education gap in learners at the undergraduate medical education,1 graduate medical education,2 and fellowship levels – creating a pipeline for developing leaders in hospital medicine. These programs include an immersive medical student elective, a dedicated leadership track in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, and a fellowship program in Hospital Medicine focused on Quality Improvement and Health Systems Leadership. Our goal in each of these programs to equip trainees across the spectrum of medical education with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to lead high-functioning teams.
Critical leadership skills such as stakeholder engagement, change management, conflict management, and negotiation are taught through a variety of modalities including dedicated didactic sessions, personalized mentorship, and experiential work focused on practicing effective leadership behaviors. Ultimately, we hope to accelerate our graduates into positions of health care leadership by providing them with the core skills needed to successfully navigate a career in medicine, though we feel strongly that the development of leadership skills is imperative for all providers in the dynamic health care landscape, regardless of whether individual learners wish to pursue titled leadership positions in their organizations. Further, we agree with Dr. Afsar that leadership skills are important for all physicians, and would add that these skills are imperative regardless of motivations to hold a “titled leadership position.”
In our 5-year experience with our leadership training pipeline, we’ve learned a few important lessons. First, medical trainees are rarely exposed to the leadership skill set elsewhere in medical training, and are eager to learn new approaches to common problems that they encounter on a daily basis: How do I negotiate with a colleague? How can I motivate team members to change behavior to accomplish a goal? How can I use data to support requests for resources?
Secondly, trainees who are exposed to leadership concepts and who are given the opportunity to practice them through challenging project work in the live system routinely make meaningful changes to the health system. Our trainees have revamped our process of managing interhospital transfers, have decreased rates of inappropriate antibiotic usage, and have enhanced the patient experience in our stroke units. Further, our recent graduates have positioned themselves as leaders in health systems. Our graduates are leading a QI program at a major academic center, being promoted to educational leadership roles such as assistant program director within a residency training program, directing process improvement in a developing country, and leading the operations unit of a large physician group.
As Dr. Afsar highlights, there is much work to be done to better equip trainees with the skill set to lead. We strongly encourage other training programs to develop strategies to teach leadership and create forums for trainees to practice their burgeoning skill set. In addition to responding to Dr. Afsar’s call to develop programs, we should form collaborative working groups through our regional and national organizations to develop comprehensive leadership programs for medical trainees at all levels. Collaborating to empower the next generation of providers is critical to our future as hospitalists as we continue to take the lead in improving and shaping our health care systems.
Tyler Anstett, DO
Manuel Diaz, MD
Emily Gottenborg, MD
University of Colorado School of Medicine, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colo.
1. Sweigart JR, Tad-Y D, Kneeland P, Williams MV, Glasheen JJ. Hospital Medicine Resident Training Tracks: Developing the Hospital Medicine Pipeline. J Hosp Med. 2017 Mar;12(3):173-176. doi: 10.12788/jhm.2703.
2. Tad-y D, Price L, Cumbler E, Levin D, Wald H, Glasheen J. An experiential quality improvement curriculum for the inpatient setting – part 1: design phase of a QI project. MedEdPORTAL Publications. 2014;10:9841. http://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9841.