There isn’t just one path for those big dreams, either. “Everyone can be a leader in their own way,” Dr. Bradford said. She suggested leading one’s practice group or joining and leading in a medical society. She is currently the Triological Society vice president for the midwestern sections and recommends the organization as a way to keep abreast of new scholarship in the field of otolaryngology.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2018
Dr. Tsue said that within a hospital system there are many opportunities that are stepping stones to becoming a physician executive, and they may not always be billed as distinct entities or positions. They may be assignments or involvement in some type of initiative where physicians might be observed in the context of how they might function as leaders without even realizing it. “Whether participating in or leading a workshop or participating on a hospital committee, there are very few opportunities for physician leaders to distinguish themselves,” he said. “You need to learn how to identify these opportunities and take advantage of them. Those are the kinds of things that are going to help you stand out.”
For those who don’t have administrative ambitions, as was the case with Dr. Stewart, you may never know until you give the job a try. “Some people perceive being put on a committee or being asked to take on administrative responsibilities as a burden or something unpleasant you have to take on to be a good citizen,” he said. “I would suggest keeping an open mind about administrative opportunities as they come along. Exposure to people or things that you might not otherwise have in your career can be a good thing.”
Physician Training Programs
While leadership academies within medical schools often offer joint MD/MBA degrees, an MBA is not necessarily a requirement to lead, even at the C-suite level. Cliff Megerian, MD, FACS, chairman of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and president of the physician network for the University Hospitals of Cleveland Health System (an 18-hospital, $4.5 billion a year organization in Cleveland, Ohio), said his only business background was a brief physician training program and on-the-job learning when he was appointed to run his department.
“Being a chairman held to the metrics I was held to was the best training,” he said. His physician training program taught accounting and other basic tenets that are usually taught in business school. The most valuable lessons involved case studies of leaders in all walks of life, he said, noting, “My personal takeaway is that the most effective leader is one with an incredible ambition and desire to have his or her organization be the best it can be, but that ambition is paradoxically coupled with a sense of humility in the sense that the leader is willing and eager to share success within the organization and is able to learn that everyone they work with has something valuable to add to the team.” As president of the physician organization, he leads the charge in setting the budget, laying out strategic goals, helping to determine paths for the growth of the organization, developing service lines, hiring physicians, and rationalizing the distribution of services throughout the organization, which services the main academic medical center as well as 17 other hospitals in the system.
Fitting It All In
“Time management is my greatest challenge,” said Dr. Bradford, who highly recommends hiring an executive coach, as did other physicians interviewed. “Try to prioritize as best as possible. You can’t continually add things to your plate without taking things off. And remind yourself that taking things off is really a career development opportunity for someone else.” Some of the things Dr. Bradford let go were previous appointments: She was past chair of the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Michigan and past co-director of the Head and Neck Oncology Program within the Comprehensive Cancer Center. She also served as director of the head and neck surgery division and associate chair of clinical programs and education in her department.
How to Be the Best Leader
Empowering and delegating to team members is crucial for great leaders, as is being honest, maintaining integrity, treating everyone on the team with respect, and doing your best to see the good in every person in every situation. “Clinicians are generally not good at that,” said Dr. Tsue. “Clinicians are good at spotting abnormalities.; we want to know what the disease is. But, I think seeing the good in people is a key component to successful leadership. I can tell you that’s been a revelation to me in the last two years and a goal for me to improve upon and it’s made a tangible difference.”