Home Research Case Studies Coaching in the Upside Down World of Health Care

Coaching in the Upside Down World of Health Care

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Most physicians do not go into medicine to be in “Business” with a capital “B.” If you ask us, “Today, would you like to focus on being with your patients,” or “Would you like to help us capture lost quality revenue, spend 30% of your time entering data into Epic, and help us re-organize your office workflow so you can see more patients in less time,” I guarantee no one will choose option two.

Health care today, however, is big business and it is undergoing a massive and complex transformation with a future that is impossible to predict. Physician leaders find themselves in a difficult world. While they are clinical or research experts, they don’t necessarily have a deep understanding of health care economics; the depth and breadth of the challenges facing their organization; the impact national and state health policy is having in various domains; the financial analyses needed to make decisions; or the operational knowledge to solve many existing and emerging problems.

As a physician who coaches executive physician leaders, the first thing I came to understand is that they have a steep learning curve. It is important to appreciate the transformation they themselves must go through. This article presents five areas of development that many physician leaders move through learning to lead in the tumult of the health care industry.

The Business of Health Care

Coaching physician leaders is more than helping them learn about leadership. It is also about helping them discover and fill the gaps in their knowledge at the intersection of medicine and management.  In a survey conducted with my colleague Dr. Jon Chilingerian at Brandeis University, we queried physician leaders around the country about what they most needed to learn.[i] From 425 responses, they ranked the following topics as most important for their success:

  1. Leadership
  2. Health Care Finance
  3. Organizational Behavior
  4. Leadership Coaching and Management
  5. Building High Performing Teams
  6. Conflict Resolution and Negotiation
  7. Quality and Performance Measurement
  8. Operations Management
  9. State Health Policy
  10. Strategic Management
  11. Technology and Informatics
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  1. Margaret Cary, MD MBA MPH PCC

    March 20, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Sally – this is a brilliant article. You deftly capture the challenges we have as physicians in moving from clinician, diagnose-and-treat roles into management and leadership roles. You include systems thinking and also offer suggestions for coaching clients, and coaches working with physicians. Thank you for a wise and practical piece.


  2. Alexander Ku

    July 11, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Great article Sally. I am an operations leaders working closely with physician leaders in a co-management environment. I am also a certify executive coach. How would you bring awareness to physician leaders that would encourage them to pursue leadership training that covers many of the topics outlined in your article?


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