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Three Ways Physicians Can Be Better Leaders


To be a better leader at your medical practice, get out of the office and consider these three strategies to engage with your staff.

I received a call from the administrative assistant to our CEO recently. She wanted to know what kind of food I'd like for an upcoming meeting I have scheduled with the newest member of our administrative team - the CEO himself. A nice surprise. I like being asked about food, especially when it's not connected to a sales pitch from a product rep. I like the "new guy" already.

Our practice is a large, privately owned, multi-specialty group in Colorado. We have 70-some providers encompassing primary medicine as well as multiple specialties. With different individual goals and aspirations, we all have one thing in common: We value a good leader. Our CEO happens to have a handful of leadership skills and qualities that are essential for all healthcare providers. Here are a few examples:

1. Make yourself seen.

No one wants a boss who works in an ivory tower and is accessible only by appointment. As physicians, we are responsible for running our practices. However, the tasks involved in running a practice are carried out by our staff. Staff will feel a stronger connection to the practice leader if they are engaged together in personal interactions on a regular basis. As physicians, we have an ever-growing pile of work that needs to be completed, but it is vital that we step out of our offices, and do it often. Be the employer who asks questions. Inquire how a staff member is doing that day; not passively, but stop and really ask. The reaction may surprise you. Your inquiry will likely surprise him.

2. Be a sponge.

Leaders are typically admired for things they have said. Quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. circulate the Internet on a regular basis. All these people were surrounded by huge supporting staffs that they valued greatly. They valued the wise counsel they received from all these people. To glean this wisdom, they had to listen. It's amazing how, as physicians, we are continuously told to keep listening. Moreover, we are told it will have a positive effect on our patients and staff relationships, as well as indirectly keep malpractice cases from happening. I mean, we have all this knowledge we need to impart on patients, staff, lecture attendees, blog readers, children, spouses, and pets, right? So, why listen? Because it shows respect and wisdom in itself. We have knowledge, but not all knowledge. Leaders know this and listen to those around them, soaking it in like a sponge.

3. Take out the trash.

For a brief period, I worked as a medical assistant prior to starting medical school. We were running really late one afternoon. I was working with a newer physician, worrying about her reaction to the challenge of catching up in the schedule. My anxiety was based on another physician's reaction the day before to the same situation: stress, anger, and mild lashing-out at staff. Rather than mirroring her partner's reaction, she didn't say a word, got a sweeper, and started cleaning an exam room. It caught me a bit off guard. That was my job. Once done, she handed me the sweeper and said, "Let's keep moving." Morale boosted, respect gained, and ultimately, the mission of catching up in the schedule accomplished. It is never stooping to a lesser level when the physician assumes a different role in the office. It is a visual and tangible way of adding value to that role. It shows that the hierarchy between doctor and staff has become less vertical and more horizontal in nature. Peers in action, but not in title. So, take out some trash when you get the opportunity.

Mark Birmingham, DPM, is a podiatric surgeon who practices with a multi-specialty group in Boulder, Colo., and is a member of the Physicians Practice Physician Advisory Board.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Physicians Practice.

Do you make yourself accessible to staff during the day? Tell us at Unless you say otherwise, we'll assume that we're free to publish your comments in print and online.

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