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AAPL: Physician Leaders More Valuable Than Ever Before

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   November 21, 2022

Physicians are trained in optimal patient care, and when they combine that background with administrative skills, they become dynamic leaders, according to the American Association for Physician Leadership.

Physician leaders are uniquely qualified to guide health systems and hospitals, says Peter Angood, MD, president and CEO of the American Association for Physician Leadership.

Angood has authored a white paper that argues physician leaders are more valuable than ever before. The white paper says physician leadership at health systems and hospitals is pivotal to improve quality, boost patient safety, achieve efficiency, and drive the transformation to value-based care.

HealthLeaders recently talked with Angood about the issues raised in the white paper. The following transcript of that conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: Why is it important to have physician perspectives included in health system and hospital leadership?

Peter Angood: Healthcare is a highly complex industry overall—arguably it is the most complex industry. There are a whole variety of clinical professionals including nurses, physician assistants, advanced practice clinicians, and pharmacists as well as nonclinical administrators. However, physicians are trained to the highest level of medical science. They are tuned in to what is best for optimal patient care in a variety of ways. So, when a physician couples that background with training and care practice experience in leadership, they become a dynamic force in terms of trying to create improvements and refinements as well as guiding healthcare organizations.

HL: What are the advantages of having a physician serve as the CEO or president of a health system or hospital?

Angood: The medical profession has continued to be viewed as a highly trusted and honorable profession by the general public as well as others inside the healthcare industry. So, when you get physicians who are well skilled in not only their clinical delivery practices but also administrative and leadership practices, they are able to achieve better performance at healthcare organizations in the CEO role. Some data suggests that physician CEOs generate 25% to 33% better performance on quality measures.

Physician CEOs bring a constellation of skills to the role, but it is the level of expertise on the clinical delivery side and the level of expertise on the administrative side that sets them apart. They are also highly respected and trusted inherently by all types of individuals both inside and outside the industry.

HL: Is there something particular about physicians that makes them a good fit for the CEO or president role?

Angood: Physicians by nature are altruistic and highly idealistic—that is what drives them to healthcare as a chosen profession. They are also highly resilient because of the long educational track and the tenacity it takes as they go through a prolonged period of career development. They gain terrific insights into the other professions that are inside the industry—both clinical and nonclinical. And they certainly gain great insights into what is the best way to deliver optimal patient care.

Physicians do not get any management or leadership training in medical school or their specialty training programs. So, it is important that physicians acquire additional skills as they embark on getting involved in different types of administrative roles.

HL: How do physicians gain those additional skills?

Angood: There is the unique physician who just has natural talents as a leader. They know how to create influence and how to stimulate others. They are natural team members who can motivate and drive teams along. But most physicians do require additional skills. They can do that without formal education by getting involved with committees or product line development. However, most will require some formal education to gain better insights as to what is required to run organizations and to be more influential as leaders.

It is not required for all potential physician leaders to do an executive master's program or a doctorate program, and there are a variety of avenues and channels to get that education and added experiences. That is part of what our organization is all about—we have 50 years of experience in providing resources that physicians need to acquire new knowledge. We also have the educational programs and credentials for physicians who want to gain added insight and skill sets.

HL: Does having physicians in the C-Suite improve medical staff engagement?

Angood: Absolutely! Healthcare is fascinating when you look at it historically and the evolution of the relationships between the medical staff as part of a hospital delivery system and how it has evolved toward today's environment. Healthcare is even more complex today because many health systems and hospitals have a combination of employed physicians as well as independent physicians. When you have physicians in the C-Suite who have trust and respect, other physicians can see and recognize that there are physicians in high levels of administration and have confidence that their interests will be understood.

HL: What are the primary core competencies for physician leaders?

Angood: As they go through their training, physicians get oriented toward being somewhat autonomous in their behaviors, and they get used to being the predominant decision-makers. So, they oftentimes need to acquire some additional competencies. Some of that starts with looking at themselves and how they behave with others. In addition to that, you must have some leadership capabilities. That includes integrity, judgment, accountability, humility, and self-control. Then you must have good skills with team building and facilitating teamwork.

Physician leaders need to be adaptable and feel comfortable with a measure of ambiguity. For some physicians, to play a leadership role they must become comfortable with being more visible. You can't just be in the background—if you are going to take on a leadership role, you must be comfortable with being on the frontline. There are also leadership technical skills such as policy, operations, risk assessment, and finance.

Related: Physician Leadership Development for a Changing Industry

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Physicians are trusted and respected by individuals inside and outside the healthcare sector, which is an advantage when they serve in leadership roles.

Physicians do not receive management training during medical school or specialty training, so they need to develop those skills before taking on leadership roles.

Having physicians in the C-Suite boosts medical staff engagement.

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