The authority/accountability balance


Look out for yourself and others

We talk about teamwork and collaboration as hospitalists, and SHM is always underscoring the importance of teamwork and highlighting examples of successful teamwork in its many conferences and publications. Most hospital executives are focused on their own careers, however, and many have no reservations about damaging your career (your brand) if they think it will promote theirs. You have to look out for yourself and size up every leadership position you get into.

Physicians can expect their careers to last decades. The average hospital CEO has a tenure of less than 3.5 years, however, and when a new CEO is hired, almost half of chief financial, chief operating, and chief information officers are fired within 9 months. You may be focused on the long-term success of your organization as you plan your career, but many hospital administrators are interested only in short-term gains. It is similar to some members of Congress who are interested only in what they need to do now to win the next election and not in the long-term needs of the country. You should understand this disconnect when dealing with hospital executives, and how you and your credibility can become cannon fodder in their quest for short-term self-preservation.

You have to look out for and take care of yourself as you promote your group. With a better understanding of the Authority/Accountability balance, you have new tools to assess your chances of success and to advocate for yourself so that you and your group can be successful.

Despite my cynicism toward executives in the medical field, I personally advocate for supporting the career development of those around you and advise against furthering your career at the expense of others. Many unscrupulous executives will use this approach, surrounding themselves with Fall Guys, but my experience shows that this is not a sustainable strategy for success. It can lead to short-term gains, but eventually the piper must be paid. Moreover, the most successful medical executives and leaders that I have encountered have been those who genuinely cared about their subordinates, looked out for them, and selflessly promoted their careers.

In the age of social media, tearing others down seems to be the fastest way to get more “likes.” However, I strongly believe that you can’t build up your group, and our profession, just by tearing people down. Lending a helping hand may bring you less attention in the short term, but such action raises your stature, creates loyalty, and leads to sustainable success for the long run.

Dr. McIlraith is the founding chairman of the Hospital Medicine Department at Mercy Medical Group in Sacramento, Calif. He received the SHM Award for Outstanding Service in Hospital Medicine in 2016 and is currently a member of the SHM Practice Management and Awards Committees, as well as the SHM Critical Care Task Force.


Quinn R. HM Turns 20: A look at the evolution of hospital medicine. The Hospitalist. 2016 August.

Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Simon & Schuster. 1989.

10 Statistics on CEO Turnover, Recruitment. Becker’s Hospital Review. 2020.


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