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Post-Pandemic Physician Leadership

September 2021 Vol 14, No 3 - Editorial
David B. Nash, MD, MBA
Editor-in-Chief, American Health & Drug Benefits, and Founding Dean Emeritus, Jefferson College of Population Health, Philadelphia, PA
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There appears to be light at the end of the terrible pandemic tunnel. I hope this light is not from an oncoming train, but rather the light means the beginning of a new era. This era will require, in my view, a new type of physician leader. Much has been written about leadership development for physicians; probably the most detailed systematic review dates back to 2014, when several colleagues at the Global Health Leadership Institute at the Yale School of Public Health and others did a deep dive to describe all the extant leadership-training programs that were then available.1

These investigators noted that “the term ‘leadership development’ often encompasses efforts to develop individual leaders as well as to build capacity for leadership within an organization. Leadership development can promote several key functions in organizations, such as performance improvement, succession planning, and organizational change, and the literature on leadership provides evidence that leadership development helps organizations to achieve their goals.”1

In the post-pandemic era, we must refocus our attention on performance improvement and organizational change at a level that we have never collectively experienced.

In 2019, my colleague and I added to this burgeoning literature on physician leadership with an annotated bibliography.2 Looking back on that literature is sobering, because the need for a more inclusive and innovative leader is appearing on the near horizon. I believe that the post-pandemic physician leader will need an additional set of skills that have not been previously described in the scholarly literature, including, for example, expertise in digital health, technology transfer, a deeper understanding of the role of private equity in healthcare, sensitivity to the agenda of diversity and inclusion, and most important, reducing disparities and inequities in care.

The post-pandemic physician leader will necessarily come from different backgrounds and cultures. He or she is likely to have an additional degree, such as an MBA, MHA, or MPH, for example. He or she will be a member of the millennial demographic and will be savvy with all types of technology. Where will post-pandemic physician leaders obtain some of these new skills?

Let us review 3 organizations where I believe physician leaders in the post-pandemic era may obtain some of these skills and as a result be better prepared to lead. There are at least 3 leading national organizations in which physicians may obtain some of the key skills for the future.

The first and most prominent organization is the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL). As the preeminent group, given its 45-year history, to date this association has educated more than 250,000 physicians in some fashion, according to its current website.3 In 2017 alone, the AAPL educated almost 20,000 doctors. More than 3200 physicians have earned what they call the Certified Physician Executive (CPE) credential through a more senior leadership-training program that helps to create a cadre of credentialed physician leaders. In addition, nearly 2000 doctors have graduated from the partnership master’s degree programs with AAPL,3 which include (since 2011) the Master of Science degree in Health Care Quality and Safety from the Jefferson College of Population Health, something of which I am very proud.

I have been on the AAPL faculty since 1993. I estimate that in my work with the organization, I have personally taught more than 5000 emerging physician leaders face to face and another 2000 physicians remotely. Faculty from around the country make up the core teachers who are part of the AAPL, and its agile in-person and online programming has managed to stay just ahead of the learning curve. I am confident that AAPL will continue to maintain its leadership role in physician leadership training!

Another organization is the Center for Physician Leadership Excellence (CPLE), which is a joint venture with H2O Energy. According to its website, the CPLE was created “to respond to a growing need for healthcare organizations to be able to identify physicians who can be moved successfully into leadership positions and to facilitate the development of physicians currently holding leadership positions.”4

The CPLE is the brainchild of Kathy Oswald, MA, a longtime leader in healthcare, who previously served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Henry Ford Health System.4 Ms Oswald is one of the most accomplished human resources executives in healthcare and has committed herself to physician leadership assessment and training. The physician leader competency model is the foundation of the CPLE system, and this model includes entry-level, mid-level, and executive assessments for emerging and well-accomplished leaders. The CPLE also has a national database of performance information that organizations can use to benchmark their own leaders against.

The third national organization committed to a comparable agenda is the Center for Transformation and Innovation (CTI) leadership, which includes the division of the Physician Leadership Institute (PLI).5 According to CTI’s website, “The mission of PLI is to save lives by empowering physicians to effectively lead the healthcare transformation. The PLI has successfully established numerous Leadership Fellowships and Academies, locally and nationally, and graduated thousands of physician leaders from our medical industry leadership institute.”5

Most of the energy coming from the CTI can be attributed to a longstanding national leader in this field—Mo Kasti, MS. Mr Kasti is a leadership whisperer, that is, the person who chief executive officers turn to for their ongoing leadership challenges. Mr Kasti has an uncanny capability to help leaders at all stages tackle the unique challenges posed by our industry. I’m confident that he has deep insight about the future of healthcare in our country and will be able to help an emerging class of leaders find its collective way.

What about the next decade of physician leadership training beyond these 3 noted organizations? I think we are going to see a large number of physicians as partners in health system governance. Increasingly, more doctors will join the board of directors of not-for-profit clinically integrated delivery systems and the boards of for-profit managed care companies and other entities.6 Indeed, physicians are currently a part of private equity advisory boards and will no doubt play an expanding role as private equity organizations continue to invest in the healthcare industry.

Finally, there are other organizations knocking at the door of physician leadership training in the next decade, including, potentially, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The ACGME is considering the possibility of providing accreditation for institution-based fellowship programs for physicians in healthcare administration, leadership, and management, or in their jargon, HALM.7 The accreditation of an HALM fellowship would go a long way toward improving healthcare and population health, by providing an after-residency accredited fellowship program akin to training, for example, in the field of cardiology or oncology. I will be following carefully the evolution of a possible HALM fellowship.

I’m convinced that the post-pandemic healthcare delivery system must rapidly evolve and embrace population health, diversity and inclusion, and the movement toward value and digital health. This vision will require a new type of leader. What is your organization doing today to prepare the leadership class for tomorrow?

As always, I am interested in your views. You can reach me via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

References

  1. Frich JC, Brewster AL, Cherlin EJ, Bradley EH. Leadership development programs for physicians: a systematic review. J Gen Intern Med. 2015;30:656-674.
  2. Laothamatas I, Nash DB. The current state of physician leadership training. Health Manag Policy Innov. November 2019;4.
  3. American Association for Physician Leadership. About us. www.physicianleaders.org/about. Accessed June 18, 2021.
  4. Center for Physician Leadership Excellence. Our story. https://physicianleaders.net/about/. Accessed June 18, 2021.
  5. Center for Transformation and Innovation. Physician Leadership Institute. www.ctileadership.com/pli. Accessed June 18, 2021.
  6. Murphy TM, Siegelman G. Physicians as partners in health system governance. BoardRoom Press. October 2020;31. [Requires subscription to access.]
  7. Private correspondence with Mr. Anthony Stanowski, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). Spring House, PA. November 20, 2020.
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