In a perfect world, in their work, all people would do what they do best—and only what they do best. Dancers would dance, singers would sing, and physicians and healthcare professionals would spend their time treating patients, teaching, and advancing the science of their profession.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world. Singers and dancers must often act as their own managers, agents, accountants, and teachers. In medicine, physicians and healthcare professionals must increasingly focus on hiring, managing, and retaining employees; purchasing and leasing property and equipment; managing long-term plans, finances, and contracts; and handling a mass of other business issues that come up on a daily basis.
Simply put, for many in healthcare, treating patients is just one item on a long list that is becoming more and more dominated by the business side of medicine. And, for physician leaders, the business side of medicine is quickly moving to the top of their to-do lists.
What Makes A Physician Leader?
While there are many types of physician leaders—clinical, academic, research—the focus here is leadership in the context of a business or organization. A physician leader in this sense is a person who has a major role in an organization and motivates colleagues by inspiring them to fulfill an organization’s goals and objectives. This role is different than that of a manager, who typically has a more operational focus and directs a group to accomplish activities according to previously established principles and missions.
What Is the Business Side of Medicine?
The business side of medicine encompasses all of the nonmedical goals, objectives, and tasks that physicians who own their own practices or manage a department staff face on a daily basis.
To understand more fully the business side of medicine, consider the dual role the physician leader plays as a clinician and administrator.
According to Michael Guthrie, MD, MBA, executive-in-residence at the University of Colorado in Denver, and featured speaker at the 2008 American College of Physicians Executives’ annual Spring Institute in New York, the physician leader is someone who has “moved from being an individual contributor to managing other individual contributors.” Such a person must “build competencies today that will make their practice or department successful and sustainable tomorrow.”
In essence, the physician leader is the key person in the business side of medicine. Such a person may have risen from being a resource of an institution, organization, or practice to being part of the administrative or management group that is in charge. As a leader and executive, a physician manager must deal with a large number of complicated and sometimes conflicting issues and may have to walk the thin line between the clinic and the boardroom.
Becoming a Hybrid
The position of physician leader likely emerged from the ongoing evolution of healthcare. According to Dr. Guthrie, “the work of engaging physicians became complicated for many reasons—some of which were regulatory, some of which were societal and market driven, and some of which were just related to size and scope.” The response to this was the creation of the physician leader who “became the interface between the physician and the organizational world,” says Dr. Guthrie.