Leadership should be taught


Raptor and Strike Eagle low over Wales! (by Morley Lester)

One more year of medical school! Third year reinforced for me that physicians have an exciting position in guiding and leading our health systems. This year exposed my classmates and I to a variety of teams and physicians with differing leadership abilities. During my surgery block I worked with a resident who was a poor leader. It made me stop and wonder if we teach our doctors to be good leaders and team members?


I just read an article, “Dear Cadets, Being An Officer Doesn’t Automatically Make You A Leader.” I believe this quote from an Army officer in 1919 also applies to any physician graduating in our class next year. The author has great leadership advice if you can spare the time!


An Elephant Walk of F-15Es

Our medical school acknowledges that we will be part of, and maybe in charge of, healthcare teams. We’ve had a class on how to play well with the nurses, pharmacists and dentists. The only leadership courses I could take were elective, taught to less than 10% of us.

The residents I’ve talked to confirm that each residency program after medical school is different and often there is little or no formal leadership curriculum. “There’s no time, we’re already too busy as it is!”

I remember saying the exact same thing when faced with leadership training as a pilot. But it was mandatory. The courses and skills were required even as I was told to put in long hours becoming an expert aviator and tactician.

A 4th year resident exclaimed, “I get leadership training every day!” She was right; every day she led a team around to care for our group of patients. But with no formal curriculum there is no standardized product and no way of assuring that each physician will be effective. We spend hours teaching surgical residents how to suture but we have very little curriculum to teach them the skills of leadership. Residents are left to follow by example. They are yelled at and ordered around when they are interns so the next year they yell at their interns. What if they were taught to assess and control their own emotions while mentally analyzing why their team member made a mistake?

IMG_0198The Air Force has a progressive plan to teach leadership and management as officers go up in rank. It starts with Reserve Officer Training (ROTC) or the Academy. Junior officers are then sent to a 4-week and a later 5-week course. Majors (mid-level administrators) complete a course with the mission: “We develop bold airpower leaders who think, communicate and collaborate in the joint environment to strengthen national security.” And the training continues for the senior leaders. No self-respecting fighter pilot would say these courses are perfect; they aren’t. I appreciate, however, that there was a plan to ensure I had the minimum skills to accomplish the missions with my teams.

Leadership training is certainly not unique to the military. The leadership program created by Jack Welch at GE is a standard case study for MBA students. Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, IBM, Dow Chemical and Verizon have all been ranked as having top leadership programs. One of my favorite local cafés places a huge emphasis on leadership development from hiring to customer service. They include regular shadowing, feedback and cultural mentoring. These companies all understand that their leadership training programs have a tremendous impact on their cultures and their success.


“Consulting with neurology colleagues.” blogs.hospitalmedicine.org

Every one in my class will be part of many teams during school, during residency and after. Several hospital and healthcare systems across the country have created physician leadership boot camps and universities to develop their senior leaders just as other Fortune 500 companies have. This is fantastic and necessary but I think it starts too late in a physician’s career. Not all of my classmates want to be hospital leaders but they must at least possess enough teamwork, followership and leadership skills to not hinder patient care. We need this near the beginning of residency, not years later.

I saw in the military that a person with higher rank can lead his or her team respectfully and effectively if they are trained and motivated to do so. My time on the surgery team showed me that a person with higher rank could instead just be a bully. The team and the customers suffer. I believe that healthcare would improve if there was a systematic and required leadership program for young physicians. A course during residency designed to, “develop bold health care leaders who think, communicate and collaborate in the joint environment to strengthen patient care and safety” sounds useful to me!



Works Cited

Air Command and Staff College. (2015, May). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from Air University: http://www.au.af.mil/au/acsc/about.aspx

Dan Weinfurter, J. D. (2015, Dec 29). 2016 Best Companies for Leaders. Retrieved Apr 2016, from Chief Executive: http://chiefexecutive.net/2016-best-companies-for-leaders/

May, E. (2015). Achieving Physician-Led Clinical Integration. Healthcare Executive , 30 (1), 10-17.

Squadron Officer School. (2016, May). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from Air University: http://www.au.af.mil/au/soc/sos.asp

Steadman, D. (2016, May 10). Dear Cadets, Being an Officer doesn’t automatically make you a leader. (HirePurpose, Producer) Retrieved May 2016, from Task and Purpose: http://taskandpurpose.com/dear-cadets-officer-doesnt-automatically-make-leader/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=tp-facebook&utm_campaign=leadership




4 thoughts on “Leadership should be taught

  1. I have been in the military and healthcare field for over 16 years now. I have gravitated toward Dentist that have also served in the military due to there ability to lead and communicate without emotion. This is a great arrival and I completely agree that there is a need. Good work.


  2. Solid… Well said as usual, my friend.

    “Be a leader to your peers and, if required, use words.”

    Or the WIC mantra:

    “Humble, Approachable, Credible”

    I try and use these everyday. Keep up the great work. Proud of you my friend. Glad you are in the health care business. This industry got a win with you.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s