In my last blog we talked about the first of four dimensions of physician leadership: How can I better develop my own leadership skills? These skills are necessary for any leader, but not in themselves sufficient for a successful leader. I would now like to address the second dimension: How can I work more effectively as a member of the health care team?
2. Becoming a more effective member of the health care team
Historically, physicians have been programmed to work in solo. As the health care industry matures, it has become increasingly obvious that in order to provide the best care for the individual and the community, the entire health care TEAM must perform at its best. Just like no one football player can take a team to the Superbowl, no one member of the health care team can unilaterally lead the process of community and population health. The physician must see him/herself as an invaluable member of the team, but MUST work within the team in order.
This is not inherently natural for the physician. Typically the patient and health system expect the physician to be major decision maker for the management and treatment of the patient. This is a very responsible position as many times the alternatives and consequences of these decisions can be life threatening. Physicians have done very well in this area as expert professionals, but it can be at a cost…. tough decisions are not always TEAM consensus. Someone has to be the one to ultimately make the decision.
The physician is in the ideal position to contribute to that decision…. the physicians has the most knowledge, the most training, knows the medical history of the patient, and should overall have the most global perspective for the best thing to do in a given medical situation.
But the physician does not work alone…. and SHOULD not work alone. There are many very qualified individuals ultimately involved with the care of the patient, and any physician would be remiss if ALL of the opinions and information were not all taken into consideration. As the rate of medical information grows exponentially, it is impossible for any one person to have all of the information.
The physician must be in the position to share the medical expertise and develop consensus amongst the members of the health care team. Being part of a team should actually be comforting to the physician. The concept of the health care team is relatively new and requires a different culture amongst the members of the team.
As I mentioned above, it really boils down to a simple concept that we well know in sports… Individuals do not win games…TEAMS win games. Even the best player in the league cannot guarantee success if the TEAM does not work together.
The team requires ALL players to be at the top of their game. Each player specializes in a particular area of expertise, and then the entire team comes together to win the game.
The same is true in health care. Ultimately someone has to make the medical decision. Overall, the physician is in a key position to contribute to that decision. But if the system does not act together as a team to benefit the patient, it will not work optimally.
In the role of physician administrator, this issue becomes more complex. Now the physician has to deal with an entire administrative team. Many of the individual members of that team have a great deal more knowledge and expertise than the physician. The historical role of “captain of the ship” now has a much lesser meaning.
The medical contribution to a health care decision is obviously very important; but there are other considerations such as financial, logistics, alternative initiatives, etc., that the physician executive must now weigh in upon.
So my second question to the prospective physician is: “Can you work together as an invaluable part of the health care team?”
Whether you are a practicing clinician or full time physician administrator, you are NOT acting alone. You are an invaluable part of an ever expanding team of experts. I have found in my CMO mentoring programs that role playing and consensus building techniques can be very helpful to the physician in better developing this second dimension. The challenge becomes not making the decision unilaterally, but how best to contribute to the development of the optimal solution.
Physicians can become better team players. I have often heard the expression that leading physicians is like “herding cats”…. frankly I am sick of that analogy.
Docs… do you really want to be a cat? I have a powerpoint slide that I use during discussions like these that shows the average size of a cat brain and the average size of a human brain….
No, I don’t want to be a cat. I want to be the best resource I can be to the patient and the health care system that will achieve the best result. I don’t need the pressure to make a decision unilaterally and in a vacuum… I want to contribute valuably to the development of the BEST decision.
Physicians…. sign up for the team.