Recently, we spoke with Dr. Robert Strauss, TeamHealth’s Vice President of Program Development. He has substantial responsibility for orienting and training TeamHealth clinical leaders. Beyond that, Dr. Strauss developed and conducts the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) ED Directors Academy, a four-phase curriculum to develop and coach physician leaders. Additionally, Dr. Strauss is chief editor of Strauss and Mayer’s Emergency Department Management.
TeamHealth: Why is leadership training necessary? Aren’t physicians leaders by definition?
Dr. Strauss: Many people believe physicians are natural leaders, and they do demonstrate leadership skills when working with a team of clinical professionals, such as nurses, technicians and other physicians to define and address a patient’s clinical issues. In fact, this demonstrated clinical expertise is one of the two factors that often leads to an appointment as a leader within a department or institution. The other characteristic is—of course— temperament.
However, while being a good clinician and a good person is important for credibility and influence, there are many leadership skills for which clinicians are untrained.
TeamHealth: Tell us what you mean by untrained?
Dr. Strauss: Certainly. Physicians are trained to be excellent clinicians. They learn to assess, prevent and treat the clinical disorders of patients. However, very few residency training programs teach leadership and management skills. So outside of the clinical realm, clinicians have minimal or no leadership training. Done correctly, leadership skills are taught and then mentored.
TeamHealth: What skills are necessary for leadership?
Dr. Strauss: There are many. I am editing the third edition of a 1,000-page book on the necessary skills. To list a few, scheduling, operations, flow and throughput processes, informatics applications, complaint and compliment management, patient safety and error reduction, conducting effective meetings, team development, addressing regulatory and medicolegal issues, developing medical staff relations, developing business plans, contracting, billing and coding… the list is long.
TeamHealth: Can you give us a specific example of a skill TeamHealth leaders must learn?
Dr. Strauss: Sure, at TeamHealth, we have a Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Program. Perhaps the most difficult leadership responsibility is to provide effective feedback, particularly negative feedback. And yet, if the message is not conveyed in a clear manner, the recipient is unlikely to recognize the problem or change behavior. Interestingly, most clinicians want to know how they are doing, what is working and what isn’t. They are eager to correct and improve when given objective information and appropriate guidance.. A good leader knows how and when to give feedback. We provide those tools through LEAD.
TeamHealth: In this era of outcomes, how do you know if your efforts are successful?
Dr. Strauss: That’s exactly the right question. It is not enough to simply train people. To be effective and achieve success in this and other skills, we have to hardwire the process and ensure accountability with metric-driven goals and consistent follow-up. We have a sophisticated system that ensures accountability.
A facility medical director (FMD) reports to and communicates with their regional medical director (RMD) and vice president of operations (VPO). This pairing provides our medical directors with highly sophisticated leaders who are chosen because they have achieved great success in their own programs. The RMDs/VPOs are responsible for providing consistent mentoring and support to the FMDs and also holding their FMDs accountable. We work closely with all participants to expand their skills in areas specifically required to help them achieve success.
TeamHealth: Your process appears to be very well organized, but how do you know what is specifically important to your client facilities and their CEOs?
Dr. Strauss: Before we begin providing services at any facility, our team of leaders and managers meets with their team of leaders and managers. We go through an extensive exploration of their goals and analyze the barriers to achieving those goals. Once we’ve done that, our leaders sit with the facility leaders and set time-specific and measurable goals; and we determine who is responsible for each component. All of this occurs before we start. Our follow-up process is “baked-in.” On a regularly scheduled basis, we have goals progress meetings to review progress and set new and further refined goals to provide a pathway for future leaders by identifying and developing their skills.
In part two of our Let’s LEAD series, Dr. Strauss takes a deeper dive into what clinicians can expect when attending TeamHealth’s leadership training.
Learn more about LEAD and other leadership development resources TeamHealth provides by visiting our Leadership page.