Do you want to become a hospitalist leader?

Learn how or even whether you should


Have you ever thought you could be a leader, in your hospitalist group, in hospital administration, or at another institution? The reasons to seek a leadership role as a hospitalist are many, but there are also many drawbacks. According to hospitalists who have reached high rungs on the leadership ladder, you will need a blend of desire, enthusiasm, education, and experience if you want to succeed in leadership.

The right reasons

“People who make good leaders have a sense of purpose and want to make a difference,” said Eric Howell, MD, MHM, CEO of the Society of Hospital Medicine, and former chief of medical units at Johns Hopkins Bayview in Baltimore. “I think most hospitalists have that sense of wanting to help patients and society, so that’s a strong mission in itself. Just by training and the very design of our health care system, hospitalists are often natural leaders, and in leadership roles, because they run teams of clinicians and train medical students.”

Danielle Scheurer, MD, SFHM, chief quality officer and professor of medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, and current president of SHM, said some hospitalists end up in leadership roles almost by accident – because there is a leadership “void” in the health system where they work, and no one else wants to step up. Others disconnect from the leadership track and are happy to simply be part of a team.

“If you are yearning to make a difference and that’s your motivation then you will find leadership is more fulfilling than difficult,” she said. “But if you take a leadership role to fill a void or think you just want to take some nonclinical time, it’s probably not a good idea. Some people think administrative leadership is easier than being a hospitalist, but it is not. Leadership should not be about getting away from something else. It should be a thoughtful career move, and if it is, being a leader can be meaningful and fulfilling.”

Nancy Spector, MD, the vice dean for faculty and executive director of the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, said a willingness to fail is vital for a leader. “You have to be open to successes, yes, but also to making mistakes,” she said. “It’s about honing the skills that leadership requires and be open to development and change.”

Kierstin Cates Kennedy, MD, SFHM, chief of hospital medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said that a hospitalist fresh out of residency will gain insight into whether leadership is the right path by acquiring a deeper understanding of how health care institutions work.

Dr. Kierstin Cates Kennedy, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Dr. Kierstin Cates Kennedy

“When you are new to the hospital, you see how things work, how people interact with each other, and learn the politics,” she said. “One of the easiest ways to do it is get involved in a committee and be a part of meetings. You can have some input and get exposure to other leaders and they can learn more about you. Once you get an organizational understanding under your belt, then you can start taking on projects to gain even more understanding.”


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