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Leadership Basics for Young Hospitalists


Editor’s note: first published online at

There are many practical skills you should hone if you are interested in becoming a team leader in your hospital medicine group—among them the ability to engage others, to effectively conduct an efficient meeting, and to meet project deadlines. But more basic than that, says Jasen Gundersen, MD, MBA, CPE, SFHM, president of the Acute Care Services Division for TeamHealth in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, is to first ask yourself, “Why do I want to be a leader? What is it about being a leader that draws me in?”

Early career hospitalists may think leadership roles automatically yield more money and free time, Dr. Gundersen says. Actually, being a leader requires stamina and the ability to weather the ups and downs that come with the leadership role. For example, will you be able to handle situations in which your decisions make others unhappy?

Honest self-assessment is one of the most critical elements in becoming a leader, agrees Steven Deitelzweig, MD, MMM, FACP, FSVMB, RVT, VPMA, system chairman of hospital medicine and medical director of regional business development for Ochsner Health System in the greater New Orleans area. In addition to having good interpersonal skills, showing enthusiasm, and promoting your organization sincerely—what Dr. Deitelzweig labels “emotional intelligence”—prospective leaders need to be cognizant of delivering on promises.

“This is something I call a high ‘say/do’ ratio,” he explains, “and, simply put, it means that you accomplish what you say you will. At the end of the day, the only way anybody moves up is by being good at achieving results.”

If you start missing deadlines, you communicate that you are not reliable. Not all project implementation goes according to plan, of course, so when you encounter difficulties, early communication about obstacles is also key, he says.

Through SHM’s Leadership Academy, hospitalists can be trained in team management and other key leadership skills. An October 2015 session is scheduled in Austin.

Having trusted mentors is crucial, agreed both physicians, so that you can keep polishing your skill set and obtain honest feedback. These mentors should not be people to whom you directly report, and they need not be in the healthcare industry.

In fact, Dr. Gundersen says he’s known mentors for years “who have not been in the same specialty or even the same field, but who give me guidance and have helped make me into the leader I am.”

How do you assert your desire to be a leader? Dr. Deitelzweig suggests making your aspirations clear to your own group leaders. The annual review is an excellent juncture at which to discuss this, he says.

If you do not yet have project management or communications experience, ask your leaders whether they are familiar with training to help you develop those skills. In the current healthcare environment, the Affordable Care Act and reimbursement regulations mean that change will continue to be part of the leadership challenge.

“If you really want to be a leader,” Dr. Deitelzweig says, “you cannot be a naysayer. Make change work for you, look at it as an opportunity for you to innovate, and then show how valuable you can be.”

Gretchen Henkel is a freelance writer in California.

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