How to get a position as a physician leader


The best ways to start

It’s been said that physicians tend to fall into leadership roles. Few physicians set out to become leaders, and then one day they realize that they desire to be a leader and an agent for change.

They may be rotating through the chairmanship of a clinical department or the management of a small practice and decide they like the work. In a large organization, doctors get assigned to committees, or specialists agree to run a new service line for a while, and it changes their lives.

Some physicians have a natural aptitude for managerial work. Often, colleagues tell them they are a good fit, but they may still have some reservations. In any case, it’s good to do a bit of soul-searching before taking the leap.

1. Weigh the pluses and minuses of a leadership role

When you stand at the precipice of a totally new career in physician leadership, it’s worthwhile to step back and consider the pluses and minuses of the work.

One plus is that there may be fewer work hours than on the clinical side, but being a physician leader is by no means a 9-to-5 job. In a large organization, a physician on the executive team can be on administrative call – dealing with institutional crises on off-hours – for a length of time. Board and strategic planning retreats tend to occur on weekends, and you may need to attend frequent dinner meetings.

Another plus is that the pay is pretty good. In 2016, physician leaders in large organizations earned an average of $350,000 a year, according to a survey by Cejka Executive Search and the American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL).1

On the minus side, an executive probably won’t be as beloved as a clinician serving a host of grateful patients. And you will not have the kind of job security that most clinicians have. There may be frequent turnover among health care executives because of change of top leadership, pressure for more profitability, or a host of other reasons.

2. Try on different roles

To decide whether you want to make a career of being a physician leader, it’s useful to try out several different jobs. Volunteer for committees or take on a special project if it’s possible to do so in your organization.

You can also volunteer for posts outside the organization, such as joining the board of your local cancer or heart association or helping them out on a committee. You might volunteer for Little League or a school or civic organization. Your choices are wide open. The goal is to get a feel for directing an organization and whether that fits your lifestyle.

Also, talk to current physician leaders. Contact a cross-section of people, including those who are unhappy with their jobs and those who had to struggle with their new roles. This will give you some good perspective into whether the work is right for you, as well as tips on how to cope.


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