Physician leadership is critical at this time in the evolution of our health care system.
Physician leadership is critical at this time in the evolution of our health care system. Without physicians engaging with health care issues, speaking up, and sharing their ideas, Canadians will lose key knowledge that will drive health care over the next decade. Dr Janice Stein, a renowned political scientist, has been working with section heads and representatives of Doctors of BC to help them with their leadership skills.
In the last year, the association has offered section representatives three of the CMA’s Physician Leadership Institute (PLI) 2-day courses: Developing Strategic Influence, Conflict Management and Negotiation, and Leadership Strategies for Sustainable Physician Engagement. Physicians learn practical skills and approaches that can be used immediately in their practices, their communities, and their professional associations.
Dr Stein finds BC’s physicians highly motivated to become better “physician leaders,” to learn skills not taught in medical school but critical in their practice and in leadership roles they take on. Physicians are unusually conscious of their responsibility to serve patients as well as their responsibility to other doctors and clinicians and to become agents of change.
According to course evaluations, section representatives valued the opportunity to learn with doctors from a variety of specialties. Everyone who attended the Strategic Influence course in June 2017 with faculty Dr Peter Kuling and Dr Stein said they would attend another PLI course.
Faculty also includes local experts Dr Graham Dickson and Dr Johny Van Aerde, neonatologist and editor of the Canadian Journal of Physician Leadership. They showed course participants how to become active champions and partners in physician engagement, and had them look at limitations as a source of creativity.
Some instructors may even inspire physicians to influence public policy. Dr Kuling, for example, explained how he led a campaign to ban tobacco advertising at professional sporting events. He described how over a 10-year period he built coalitions to influence MDs and MPs from across Canada. He described how incredibly satisfying it was, in his words, “to get the Marlboro Man out of the Montreal Grand Prix.”
Dr Kuling took on this mammoth piece of work due to his deep desire to get past just treating. The many consequences of smoking—lung cancer, strokes and heart attacks, COPD, burns, childhood asthma due to secondhand smoke, newborns with low birth weight—can be treated, but changing public policy means looking at the big picture and considering preventive measures.
For many physicians, becoming involved in a leadership role is often the result of circumstance rather than a deliberate choice. Doctors of BC president Dr Trina Larsen Soles is one example of this. After taking a few weeks off to have her first child, she returned to work to discover she had been appointed chief of the medical staff for her rural community.
Whether or not they feel so themselves, physicians are viewed as natural and credible leaders. While a physician’s primary raison d’être is the care and welfare of the patient, there are many commitments underlying the profession, including education and the growth of research knowledge. Dr Ruth Collins-Nakai thinks that these commitments and values are part of the profession and perhaps why doctors choose to enter the profession in the first place. These values are reinforced starting in medical school and carrying through to the years of practising. It is a professional responsibility to represent these values, especially if you’re in a leadership role deliberating the future of health care in Canada.
Dr Evert Tuyp, president of the Section of Dermatology, supplemented the three PLIs offered by Doctors of BC with workshops at the 2017 Canadian Conference on Physician Leadership in Vancouver. He has applied what he learned to his work as a section representative, at the committee level within the Specialists of BC, and in work with the Canadian Dermatology Association. Dr Tuyp highly recommends these courses, especially to his colleagues in their residency or during their early career, and regrets that they weren’t available when he was a young physician. Physicians don’t usually come from a business background where leadership skills are taught routinely, but seeking out this knowledge will make them more effective when dealing with colleagues, with hospital administrators, with government, and within our medical associations.
The president of the Section of Infectious Disease, Dr Dwight Ferris, shares the same sentiments, noting that the experience helped in day-to-day work situations and with conflict resolution. A leader is someone who respects and values others’ time, and learns how to use one’s personal talents and address one’s own weaknesses. His advice to future leaders in residency would be to pursue continuing education programs such as PLI to improve the skills that can only be gained from real-world experiences.
Doctors of BC will continue to develop nonclinical aspects of its members’ skill sets and enable effective leaders. A PLI on team building is planned for November 2017, with Dr Stein returning to BC to inspire physicians to lead with knowledge, understanding, and sagacity to deal with today’s system challenges and to shape tomorrow’s health care.
Dr Stein’s words of wisdom lit up the room when she encouraged her physician students to prevail in the face of obstacles: “If you think like a matrix, nothing is an absolute, just a detour.”
—Gabrielle Lynch-Staunton, BFA, BEd
Sections Coordinator, Doctors of BC
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