To become an effective executive, physicians have to learn to be team players and be prepared for the possibility that they may not always be the boss, said career counselor Barbara Linney. “They need to be able to be flexible and move back and forth between knowing when it’s time to be the lead position and when it’s not,” said Linney.
For doctors considering a career switch because they’ve had enough of “middle-of-the-night calls,” Linney explained that the lack of late-night calls doesn’t mean the physician executive has an easier job. “It’s very demanding,” she said.
And the competition is steep. Candidates seeking executive positions sometimes appear before countless search committees before they make it through the selection process. “Just because you want to do it doesn’t mean you get to do it. It’s not easy to get these jobs,” said Linney.
From her experience, recruiters looking to fill executive positions such as chief medical officer, vice president of medical affairs or medical director have certain qualities and backgrounds that they look for in candidates. It’s important for anyone considering the move to know that there are basic expectations for an up-and-coming physician executive. “They have what they call their baseline requirements: The person is board certified in his specialty, has practiced clinically for five years or more, has good communication skills and has management experience.”
During counseling sessions with physicians considering transitioning career paths from a practice to the boardroom, many have told Linney that they feel unfamiliar with business topics.
That’s why they seek out organizations like the American College of Physician Executives for educational programs. “They take courses on financial decision making and quality and health law, things that they haven’t been exposed to,” said Linney.
To get that management experience, Linney advises doctors to serve and lead committees for quality improvement and strategic planning, as well as similar groups, to gain business experience. Some people work part time learning these skills, and that experience can eventually lead to a full-time position.