Medicine involves leadership―Dr. Gigi Osler says ‘let’s lead the way’

tweetable: It starts with recognizing the value in learning those skills and how it can help us in our day to day practice.
Nearly all physicians assume significant leadership responsibilities at some point over the course of their career. However, unlike other occupations where people and management skills are important, there is no standard pathway or course for physicians to learn leadership. Dr. Gigi Osler, Canadian Medical Association (CMA) President, says when it comes to physician leadership, it’s time to change our mindsets.
 
“I think part of it starts with ourselves and how we think of ourselves. Part of it starts with recognizing the value in learning those skills and how it can help us in our day to day practice,” Dr. Osler explains. “When you’re working in environments with other people and other health care professionals and other physicians and patients, there are skills that are so important to learn that you don’t get in traditional medical training, we don’t get in residency.” 
 
Dr. Osler’s own leadership can be highlighted by her history of firsts: she is the first female surgeon to hold the CMA presidency, as well as the first woman of colour and the first woman physician from Manitoba to fill the role. As an associate professor, Osler continues to teach medical students in addition to running her own otolaryngology-head and neck clinic. She is working toward giving women and other under-represented groups in medicine a stronger voice and a seat at the table in medical leadership, academia and administration.
 
Medical institutions have designated “leadership” as a core medical competency, yet few offer leadership courses.  Osler admits her own leadership training occurred long after medical school and residency. “Some of the training and leadership skills I’ve learned that’s helped me in my day to day practice—in managing myself and managing other people that I work with—have come from leadership courses and not medical conferences.” 
 
Medical students and trainees learn about biology and biochemistry, physiology and mental health―but there are limited structured paths on which would-be physicians learn fundamental leadership skills―including conflict resolution, how to lead a team, benefits of mentoring others and team management. It is time for leadership training to be formally integrated into medical and residency training curricula.
 
“The colleges are starting to understand in order to keep up your skills and knowledge and competencies, that there is more robust learning in assessment,” says the CMA President. “When I meet with medical student and residents, physicians in practice, I encourage them all to think of themselves as leaders.”
 
Research shows management practices and leadership skills positively influence both patient and health care organization outcomes. For instance, hospitals with higher rated management practices and more highly rated boards of directors deliver higher quality care and demonstrate better clinical outcomes, including reduced mortality rates. Enhanced management practices have been linked to higher patient satisfaction and better financial performances. Furthermore, effective leadership affects physician well-being, with better leadership linked with less physician burnout
 
Medical schools and residency programs should modify curricula to include leadership skill development at several levels of training. The training should focus on skill sets including: 
  • interpersonal literacy to effectively coordinate teams, coach and provide feedback, role modeling through emotional intelligence and interprofessional communication;
  • systems literacy to help master the business of health care systems, insurance structures and costs, and safety principles and quality assurance;
  • ability to recognize, disclose and address errors.
Dr. Osler speaks from experience when she encourages her peers to take part in adopting and honing new leadership capabilities. “I will tell physicians: if you want to know how to run your practice more efficiently and more effectively, consider taking leadership courses, because you will learn a whole bunch of other skills that will complement your medical skills, and just make running your practice so much better.” 
 
tweetable: If you want to know how to run your practice more efficiently and more effectively, consider taking leadership courses… you will learn other skills that will complement your medical skills, and just make running your practice so much better.
 
Each medical governing body sets out requirements for ongoing physicians’ professional development.  Naturally, there are barriers to offering and participating in professional development. Physicians often give up clinic hours attending to patients, family time and income in order to participate in further education. Online course offerings can help alleviate obstacles to professional development.
 
“Some of it may be cost, but that goes back to not seeing the value in a one- or two-day course. If you don’t see the value, then the cost may be a deterrent. Although, I think the return on investment afterwards would be huge and measurable,” says an encouraging Dr. Osler.
 
Being practical about the course approach is another important investment, advises Dr. Osler. “Many physicians enjoy ones that have real life practicality for them. Leadership courses delivered to them by physicians, or tailored and delivered by people who at least have a keen understanding of health care, makes learning new skills relevant.”
 
Costs of training and assessment will undoubtedly increase with enhanced training in leadership. While our profession constantly seeks to improve patient care and health care outcomes, we need to ensure all members of our profession take advantage of leadership training, from the outset of our careers and throughout. Recognizing leadership at all levels has a direct, positive impact on our health care experiences and outcomes is key. Medicine involves leadership; let’s lead the way.

About the author

LeeEllen Carroll

LeeEllen Carroll is an award-winning communicator with expertise in strategic planning and execution, public relations, video production, media relations and training, and writing. Combining her years as a network television news producer and public relations agency consultant, she is a storyteller and connector who engages others to be impactful. With a flair for strategy and a bent for achievement, LeeEllen's work on both sides of the microphone has been cited and honoured.

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