Physician technology to assist with ultrasound procedures.
Physician technology to assist with ultrasound procedures.

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Leading the Way

Table of Contents

Being an effective leader is critical for physicians as well as managers. This includes employed physicians as well as physician owners. Staff looks to the physicians for support and guidance. It’s a fact—and it affects whether staff is motivated, productive, and happy on the job!

I was recently brought into a practice where there was dissension among the employees and turnover was at an all-time high. There were a number of reasons for this, but one pointed directly at a physician that joined this three-physician practice two years earlier.

Dr. Clueless had a lot to learn about dealing with staff and understanding how important it was for him to set an example. Here are just a few of the things he did that quickly demoralized this staff:

  • Questioned employees in a way that exhibited a lack of confidence or trust
  • Frequently changed his mind about how he wanted things done
  • Was quick to judge and slow to praise
  • Made derogatory statements about one employee to another
  • The manager of this practice was doing a stellar job, but this physician damaged leadership’s position by setting a poor example that was destructive to both morale and productivity.

Physicians need to get on the same leadership course as the manager and provide the support needed to provide a consistent leadership message. Here are some important pointers to help keep leadership focused on doing the right thing.

Communicate leadership’s responsibilities

Begin by clarifying the existing leadership style and culture and put it in writing. Next, orient new physicians on what you expect and coach them on setting an example and being effective in a leadership role. Meet with Dr. New often to review how well he or she fits into the existing leadership culture and offer support and coaching when needed. Set a standard for how staff is treated and hold each physician accountable to meet the standard. This may mean curbing tempers, communicating better, keeping commitments, and respecting each person’s contribution to the practice.

Honor the staff

How important is the staff and how will this be exhibited? If you truly value staff you will pay each one fairly and provide them the tools and instructions to do their jobs well. Honoring staff includes providing the support essential to developing a team culture so that each employee appreciates what other people in the practice do.

It also means offering constructive criticism when needed and dealing with a problem employee promptly. Failure to resolve an employee’s poor attitude or sub-par performance sends staff a message that the performance or attitude is acceptable to management and results in plummeting morale and productivity. It inevitably causes a spike in turnover.

Valuing staff is further exhibited by how you respect their time. This means taking a consistent position on requiring staff to get to work on time and getting them out of the office on time. If tardiness or overtime in the office is a regular thing, leadership needs to examine the cause and find a solution.

A key component to valuing staff’s time is your attitude toward individual and group meetings. If performance reviews are delayed or postponed, or if staff meetings are frequently canceled, staff will begin to think they are at the bottom of management’s list of priorities.

Recognize everyone’s contribution

If Dr. Confident thinks that no one can do the job as well as his nurse and treats her as if she’s special, it will result in dissension and a distrust of management among the staff. Everyone in the office depends on each other, and this message needs to be clearly exhibited by managers and physicians throughout the practice.

Listen better

Listening is critical to effective communication. Keep your antennae up. Pay attention to what staff is saying. Sometimes it’s a subtle message that someone is disenchanted, confused or feeling like she doesn’t have the support she needs. By listening better, misunderstandings are resolved before they begin to fester and discrepancies or poor communication that results in frustration is reduced.

Listen to yourself to make sure you are sending the right message. Listen to other members of the leadership team to ensure each one communicates a consistent leadership message in both actions and words. Listen for the feedback when communicating with staff to ensure what you said is what they heard. Listening is a powerful form of communication.

Invest in the practice

Yes, revenue is tight and expenses threaten profitability, but squeezing expenses is not always the right approach to dealing with this. Leaders of the best-run practices understand how important it is to invest in the practice. Give staff the tools to do their job and dedicate time for additional education and training to learn a new procedure or adapt to new technology or regulatory requirements.

Invest in technology. It may be costly, but the return on investment is huge. Get everyone hooked up to the internet and train them on how to use this resource wisely. It will reduce phone calls, decrease wait time and keep the revenue moving. Bringing in new technology and spending the time and resources to implement it properly is one of the best investments leadership can make for the entire practice. It improves performance, reduces errors, and increases patient satisfaction.

Establish and achieve goals

Early each year the leadership team should establish goals for the year and determine what methods are essential to achieve these goals. These goals need to be shared with staff before they are finalized. Physicians should not leave this responsibility to the manager. Yes, the manager can facilitate this process, but the physicians need to be involved and show both their commitment and support. Ask for staff’s opinion and ideas on how realistic the goals are and what staff members can contribute to achieving them. The energy and innovation they exhibit just might be a welcome surprise.

Goals must be measurable

This allows the leadership team to monitor progress and understand what influences may be affecting the results, whether positive or negative. It provides the guidance and structure essential to remain focused on the practice’s strengths and overcome obstacles and challenges that impede the ability to accomplish the established objectives.

Get back to the basics

Best-run practices are progressive and look to the future. They also respect the basic tenets of operating and managing a practice. The leadership team strives to keep the practice uncomplicated and the patient happy by concentrating on the basics of quality: getting it right the first time around; eliminating unnecessary steps, and respecting people, time and resources.

These elements distinguish strong leadership teams that inspire higher performance, mutual respect, and pride in individual and group accomplishments. Not everyone possesses these skills naturally and there is no perfect leader. Just the same, by seeking ways to enhance your own talents you will become a stronger leader and help everyone in the practice adapt to a changing marketplace.

Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant with more than 20 years experience. She is a national lecturer and author of Secrets of the Best-Run Practices. She can be reached on her website or by email:


Judy Capko

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