Live from AMGA: Harvesting New Physician Leaders

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, March 3, 2009

Physician leadership is a big topic at this year's AMGA annual conference, which kicked off with an all-day pre-conference workshop on "How to Groom the Next Generation of Physician Leaders."

The first session featured J. Gregory Stovall, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs at Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics in Texas, who described physician leadership development using a gardening/farming analogy. He outlined four basic steps:

Creating fertile soil. Creating a culture of leadership in an organization is essential to growing physician leadership opportunities, Stovall said. Trinity began by rewriting bylaws to require the president of the organization to be a physician and boards to reserve seats for physicians. It also prioritized financial support, creating compensation models based on annual performance reviews and bonuses for all vice president level positions and higher. "I can't stress enough the importance of the annual reviews," Stovall said.

Planting good seeds. In this case, seeds are physician leaders, and "planting" refers to the recruitment process. Stovall partnered with the other presenter on the session, David Cornett, regional vice president for Cejka Search, to identify leadership potential, in addition to clinical skills, when recruiting new doctors. They used behavioral interviewing skills to dig into candidates' previous leadership experiences.

Watering and fertilizing. Recruiting physicians with leadership potential is not enough. That potential has to be nurtured and developed, and Trinity does this through a variety of on-site training programs. There are more examples later in the day of facilities working to educate physicians about the business aspects of healthcare.

Harvesting. By harvesting, Stovall means optimizing the return on investment. Solid physician leaders often increase revenue through new or expanded service lines or enhanced reputation and recognition, but they can also significantly reduce costs by spearheading quality improvement initiatives or reducing turnover (for both physicians and support employees).

Harvesting is obviously the stage that organizational leaders are most excited about, but to optimize a physician leader's ROI, it's important to start with the organization's culture, and cultivate leadership throughout the growth process, Stovall said.

Elyas Bakhtiari is a managing editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at
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