By the year 2020, when many in my generation of physicians are no longer practicing, healthcare will look very different due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The road ahead will require a lot of collaboration between physicians, hospitals, health plans, patients, and more. Physician leadership is now needed and wanted at all levels. And I think it is very important that younger physician leaders—the physicians who will actually be practicing in the future—join in the planning for and leadership of that future.
I am never surprised at just how talented and well-rounded physicians are. And I am not just talking about physicians that I work with, but all who successfully navigated med school. So the question is not whether there are enough good young leaders, but how they can most effectively be engaged and then empowered to lead?
Our medical group has recognized the value of physician leadership for decades. We promote mentorship by senior leaders, conduct a number of leadership courses every year, and we have a strong desire to get young physicians into leadership roles.
Similarly, around the country, people have been trying to find ways to address this need. In 2007, for example, the American College of Surgeons sponsored a Leadership Conference entitled, “Engaging Young Physicians in the Profession." At this conference, John Armstrong, MD, of the University of Florida, Gainsville, made the point that in order to engage the younger generation, it is important to keep in mind that they are a different breed compared to older physicians. In his words, “They have identities separate from work. They find community in different ways. They are forged in a different crucible." He recommends that we try to understand their characteristics and needs in order to create opportunities for meaningful involvement for them.
In order to interest young physicians in leadership and to train them for leadership roles, the Louisiana State Medical Society has developed a Physician Leadership Academy. The Academy offers classes on six Saturdays throughout the year. In a more intensive program, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars program chooses 27 young physicians to participate in a two-year fellowship to develop leadership skills. And Banner Health is developing associate medical officer jobs that would be more of a blend of clinical and administrative work.
But I think it is actually simpler than this: there is something everyone can do to engage and empower the next generation of leaders. Our younger physicians just need to be encouraged to be brave enough to get involved in this emerging new healthcare landscape.
Leaders of today must open the door and give newer leaders the freedom to lead, even when this involves making mistakes. Because—just as we did—they will learn more from their mistakes than from anything else. Those who will be living the future should be leading the planning, and I look forward to seeing them create their own future.