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Live From AMGA: Orchestrating Change

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, March 7, 2008
When Carl Heltne, MD, president of Duluth Clinic and executive vice president of SMDC Health System took over as president of Duluth a few years ago, physician leadership wasn't a strong point in the 700+ physician organization. Physicians weren't engaged, had minimal interest in formal leadership opportunities, and there had been high turnover in most leadership positions for a couple of years.

Heltne and Arlene Anderson, MS, director of organizational learning & development for SMDC, spoke about the steps they took to develop physician leaders and turn around the organization's culture in an AMGA session, "Physician Leadership Development: How and Where to Start."

Heltne likened physician leaders to orchestra conductors; their goal is to get everyone working together in harmony. The first step was to address the values and culture of the organization by making sure everyone in the organization was working toward the same mission, had the same vision for the future, and had the same access to information.

Over the next three years the organization surveyed physician engagement, involved physicians in strategic planning and budget development, established leadership competencies and institutes, worked on new leader orientation, and implemented other organizational changes to foster physician leadership.

One of the keys to success was "putting meat" into the job description, he said. The organization made it clear that leadership positions weren't "add-on" jobs or empty titles and that the organization was willing to invest time and money into these positions.

The result: Physician engagement and patient satisfaction survey results have steadily improved, as has the organization's profit margin.

--Elyas Bakhtiari