Let me apologize for misleading all of you; this is not an article about malignant physician leaders; instead, it goes over the numbers and trends uncovered by the 2020 State of Hospital Medicine report (SoHM).1 The hospital medicine leader ends up doing many tasks like planning, growth, collaboration, finance, recruiting, scheduling, onboarding, coaching, and most near and dear to our hearts, putting out the fires and conflict resolution.
Ratio of leadership FTE to physician hospitalists FTE
If my pun has already put you off, you can avoid reading the rest of the piece and go to the 2020 SoHM to look at pages 52 (Table 3.7c), 121 (Table 4.7c), and 166 (Table 5.7c). It has a newly added table (3.7c), and it is phenomenal; it is the ratio of leadership FTE to physician hospitalists FTE. As an avid user of SoHM, I always ended up doing a makeshift calculation to “guesstimate” this number. Now that we have it calculated for us and the ultimate revelation lies in its narrow range across all groups. We might differ in the region, employment type, academics, teaching, or size, but this range is relatively narrow.
The median ratio of leadership FTE to total FTE lies between 2% and 5% in pediatric groups and between 3% and 6% for most adult groups. The only two outliers are on the adult side, with less than 5 FTE and multistate management companies. The higher median for the less than 5 FTE group size is understandable because of the small number of hospitalist FTEs that the leader’s time must be spread over. Even a small amount of dedicated leadership time will result in a high ratio of leader time to hospitalist clinical time if the group is very small. The multistate management company is probably a result of multiple layers of physician leadership (for example, regional medical directors) and travel-related time adjustments. Still, it raises the question of why the local leadership is not developed to decrease the leadership cost and better access.
Another helpful pattern is the decrease in standard deviation with the increase in group size. The hospital medicine leaders and CEOs of the hospital need to watch this number closely; any extremes on high or low side would be indicators for a deep dive in leadership structure and health.
Total number and total dedicated FTE for all physician leaders
Once we start seeing the differences between the mean and median of leadership data, we can see the median is relatively static while the mean has increased year after year and took a big jump in the 2020 SoHM. The chart below shows trends for the number of individuals in leadership positions (“Total No” and total FTEs allocated to leadership (“Total FTE”) over the last several surveys. The data is heavily skewed toward the right (positive); so, it makes sense to use the median in this case rather than mean. A few factors could explain the right skew of data.
- Large groups of 30 or more hospitalists are increasing, and so is their leadership need.
- There is more recognition of the need for dedicated leadership individuals and FTE.
- The leadership is getting less concentrated among just one or a few leaders.
- Outliers on the high side.
- Lower bounds of 0 or 0.1 FTE.
Highest-ranked leader dedicated FTE and premium compensation
Another pleasing trend is an increase in dedicated FTE for the highest-paid leader. Like any skill-set development, leadership requires the investment of deliberate practice, financial acumen, negotiation skills, and increased vulnerability. Time helps way more in developing these skill sets than money. SoHM trends show increase in dedicated FTE for the highest physician leader over the years and static premium compensation.
At last, we can say median leadership is always better than “mean” leadership in skewed data. Pun apart, every group needs leadership, and SoHM offers a nice window to the trends in leadership amongst many practice groups. It is a valuable resource for every group.
Dr. Chadha is chief of the division of hospital medicine at the University of Kentucky Healthcare, Lexington. He actively leads efforts of recruiting, practice analysis, and operation of the group. He is finishing his first tenure in the Practice Analysis Committee. He is often found spending a lot more than required time with spreadsheets and graphs.
1. 2020 State of Hospital Medicine.