Specific steps for physicians transitioning from clinical practice to full-time roles in admin

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Q:  I want to transition from clinical practice to a full-time role in administration. What specific steps can I take now to begin that career move?

A: (by Kenneth C. Kunze, MD, CPE) So you want to become a physician executive. I am often asked to opine on the requisite steps to take and the tools needed to achieve the goal. To be successful and fortunate enough to make this your next career move isn’t easy. It takes tremendous effort both in time and additional education, as well as an incredible degree of energy, fortitude, determination, and a new set of interpersonal skill sets we are not imbued with by our long and arduous education.

Doctors, by their nature and training, are bright, inquisitive, data driven and passionately motivated. These are wonderful attributes to achieving success in medicine and can be an asset in medical management. But individually, they are skills in need of both refinement, and often times, redirection.

Having a medical degree opens the door to the executive suite of healthcare organizations, but it does not by itself let you pass through. There exists a myriad of executive roles a physician may pursue and aspire to, from the medical director level at a local hospital to the pinnacle of physician executive leadership such as the CEO of a large healthcare organization. Regardless of your ultimate goal, the path to success is remarkably the same. The process should begin as early in your clinical career as possible and follow a precise and dedicated direction.  The following are some guidelines and suggestions for those at all levels of executive experience:

  • Committee experience: Join and become knowledgeable in quality, utilization review, infection control, ethics, peer review and medical records.
  • Department chair: After ample committee experience, aspire to become chair of your department, e.g., surgery, medicine, OB.
  • Medical Executive Committee: Getting a seat on the Medical Executive Committee (MEC) is the key step in launching a successful executive career. This is where “it happens” with regard to all medical staff functions, from credentialing, by-laws, corrective action of physicians to interaction with the hospital administrative team. Become a medical staff leader on the MEC. Your goal is to aspire to become President of the Medical Staff.
  • Board of Governors: If the structure of the hospital board is composed of physician members, lobby to become a member after you have proven yourself worthy by garnering experience as described above.
  • EDUCATION – EDUCATION – EDUCATION:  Did I mention that higher education with regard to physician leadership and management is crucial? It is a must! Get involved and attend as many educational opportunities as possible. Get involved with your medical and specialty societies.
  • Competency skill sets: Review the competency standards of the various healthcare leadership organizations and master any you feel you are currently lacking. Leadership is a skill and must be practiced to be effective.
  • Join the American College of Physician Executives. Take as many courses on management and leadership as your schedule will permit. Try to become a CPE (Certified Physician Executive). This will distinguish you as a leader and an executive.
  • Join the American College of Healthcare Executives and earn your Fellowship. Attend the annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership and be active in your local chapter. It’s a great way to network with current healthcare executives, many of whom are physicians.
  • Graduate management degree: The harsh reality is in today’s extremely competitive physician executive market, an advanced business degree, e.g., an MBA, MHA or MMM is almost essential to elevate you to the level of the elite and highly desired executive. Can you reach the top of the physician executive world without an advanced degree? Yes, but the road will be more difficult and you will be at a significant competitive disadvantage.

To reach the highest levels of management, e.g., VPMA, CMO or CEO, takes tremendous skill, time and devotion. For those who are inclined, the journey will be well rewarded.

Our appreciation goes to Kenneth C. Kunze, MD, CPE, for writing this article. For inquiries about Tyler & Company’s Physician Leadership Practice, please contact Dennis J. Kain, FACHE, President, at 610.558.6100 or dkain@tylerandco.com.

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