Up Front | May 2015

Physician Leadership: A Skill We Need To Be Trained In

Physicians are extensively trained to do what we do best—treating patients. We spend so much time doing this that we tend to forget that our world is changing rapidly. Today, a growing number of group practices are formed not only among ophthalmologists but also between ophthalmologists and other subspecialists, such as plastic surgeons and dentists. When these subspecialties join forces, the result is a multidisciplinary private clinic, and some argue that these practices are the wave of the future.

Regardless of what category your practice falls into, it is one of your duties as a physician to empower yourself as a leader in your practice and to appreciate the impact of your leadership style on that practice. Can you really say that you oversee your professional situation, including marketing, finance, personnel, contracts, and other key administrative areas? How can you better bring an entrepreneurial focus to your practice's growth?

I am convinced that among the keys to these considerations are the following: to recognize the competitive situation that you are in; to formulate strategies that will allow you to negotiate win-win scenarios; to develop a confident understanding of financial statements; and to have a framework to evaluate investment, financing, and operational decisions.

I hear you thinking, “What is he talking about? These goals are almost impossible to achieve!”

I also had these same thoughts for many years, mainly because managing a private clinic is not the same as dealing with patients. I looked for an executive MBA program to train myself in these skills and achieve my goals as an entrepreneur; however, many programs require a 2-year commitment, and the content is too broad.

This past year, I came across the Physician CEO program—developed in collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois—with a unique focus on medical practice growth. Whereas other programs train physicians to be managers, run hospitals, and comply with regulations and billing procedures, the explicitly entrepreneurial Physician CEO program focuses on topics that are relevant to physician leadership, particularly patient-pay medicine. These topics include strategy, leadership, negotiations, marketing, operations, finance, corporate structures, and legal topics.

I enrolled in Kellogg's Physician CEO program in January, and over the course of the year I will complete four 5-day modules, each one presented approximately 10 weeks apart. Thus far, I have finished two modules. Already I have realized that this intensive, MBA-style experience is providing me with essential business skills that I can use to enhance my practice and further my entrepreneurial goals. I have already implemented much of what I have learned into my practice, and I cannot wait to immerse myself in the next upcoming module, which focuses on building a high-performance practice.

I challenge all of you to sit down and reflect upon how you perform as a leader and mentor in your own practice. I am sure that you could benefit, too, by taking steps to become a leader who can provide a framework for what it means to grow your practice.

Erik L. Mertens, MD, FEBOphth
Chief Medical Editor