To Train Physicians for Business Leadership, Think Beyond the MBA

Philip Betbeze, May 13, 2011

Hospital and health system leaders are quickly recognizing the shortage in business training that they face in their physician ranks, especially at the leadership level. But there's a difference between recognizing a deficiency and determining what, if anything, to do about it.

Do you promote someone into a clinical leadership position -- such as a chief medical officer -- without that training, with the idea that the physician will go on to get an MBA while on the job?

Physicians are highly motivated and smart, but often, doing their job and asking them to get another advanced degree is understandably too much. Are there other, less intensive ways for these physicians to get the business and leadership training they need? Or do you simply refuse to put anyone in that position who doesn't have the business degree or training already?

Both approaches are risky. There simply is a ton of competition for physicians who already have leadership training and experience, putting all but the most financially well off institutions at a disadvantage in attracting candidates from such a small pool. If you put someone in who doesn't have the training, who's to say how successful they will be at convincing their fellow doctors to follow evidence-based medicine guidelines, or to work in teams, for example?

Jeff Collins, MD, is one of the latter group. He had no business or leadership training before being promoted to a position that he says really should require it. Collins is CMO of the eastern Washington region at Providence Health & Services, a 28-hospital system based in Spokane. 

"In 2006, the previous vice president for medical affairs retired and I was recruited by the medical staff," he says. "On Friday I was an internist and Monday I was the CMO." 

Providence had developed a leadership academy program internally that helped doctors in positions like Collins' to get a little training in management. At the same time, Collins was encouraged by a colleague to apply to a program developed by GE and the Health Management Academy that provides training and mentoring to high potential, health system-level physician leaders to prepare them for assuming top leadership positions within their health systems. The program features some of the Six Sigma principles that made the GE management style synonymous with business efficiency and leadership development. Collins was among the first group of physicians to go through the program.

Philip Betbeze

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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