Being a better leader doesn’t just happen because you went to medical school and trained for a long time.
Explore this issue:September 2015
That’s the reasoning behind the Leadership Training Program for otolaryngology residents at Vanderbilt University, said Roland D. Eavey, MD, SM, the program founder and director of the Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
“The word ‘doctor,’ in Latin, means ‘leader’ and ‘teacher,’” said Dr. Eavey. “However, in medicine, we need to consider ourselves as leaders and to be leaders, but we receive virtually no training in leadership.” When you finish residency, you head to a medical practice. The nurse manager on the floor likely has an MBA in leadership training, and the pharmacist on the team may have served in the Army, leading hundreds of troops with a multi-million dollar budget, he added. “Why should the brand-new physician automatically be a leader, when his or her colleagues have formal leadership training, and the newly-minted physician merely has an MD?”
The Vanderbilt program, which launched in 2009, is a four-year iterative program that offers otolaryngology residents formal study in four areas: military training, public speaking, a micro master’s in business administration, and a capstone final project focusing on community health prevention. The program, the only one of its kind for otolaryngology residents and just one of a handful of residency programs to incorporate leadership skills into any medical specialty, is particularly valid during what Dr. Eavey calls a time of “turbulence” in national health systems, including the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act, the move toward value-based care over volume-based care, mergers of health systems and payers, the growth of team care, and many other unpredictable changes. Strong leadership among physicians can help navigate colleagues through these and other changes in the field.
“In healthcare right now, you’re either frightened that the sky is falling in, or you feel that the time is incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Eavey. “The patient before us is not just one suffering individual; the patient also is the entire suffering healthcare system. This is the first time in my career to have the opportunity to make substantial changes in how we practice medicine. Knowing what to prioritize, when to push or not push so hard, how to persuade or encourage—using all the skills in the leadership toolbox. We are now in a turbulent situation, and we need these skills because of the Affordable Healthcare Act.”