While physicians have long been thought of as leaders in the community, the last decade has seen an increase in the number of physician executives leading healthcare organizations. However, a broader look at the timeline reveals the current percentage is still much lower than it was nearly a century ago. In an article for the Journal of Hospital Administration, author Amol K. Gupta notes that the number of physician-led healthcare organizations has decreased by 90% since 1935. Upon the article’s writing, in 2019, only 5% of healthcare organizations were led by physician executives.
While we may not see this percentage achieve its historical high, for a number of reasons, we can expect to see a continued increase in the number of physician-led organizations. Keep reading to learn more about why we will continue to see an increasing number of organizations hiring physician executives.
Higher Quality Scores Correlate with Physician CEOs
The US News and World Report’s annual list of the nation’s best hospitals hold a disproportionate number of physician-led organizations. Despite the fact that only a small percentage of healthcare organizations have physician CEOs, more than half of the organizations on the list are led by physician executives, including familiar names such as the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins.
The aforementioned article for the Journal of Hospital Administration explored how leaders’ professional backgrounds might influence the quality of the healthcare organizations they lead. The author notes a correlation between these physician-led organizations and higher quality scores. However, further research is required to prove causation is the professional background and not some other quality or characteristic those CEOs have in common. Certainly, the indication that the presence of physician CEOs increases quality scores is one reason more organizations are seeking to hire physician executives.
Physician Executives Improve Communication
The benefits of physician executive leadership are many, though often the first to come to mind is their usefulness as liaisons between hospital leadership and medical staff. Because they have direct experience with patients, physician executives may garner more trust and respect from staff than other executives. As a result, news of policy changes and other decisions may be more easily digested when it comes from a physician leader. Physician executives also bring a clinical perspective to the boardroom, ensuring administrators understand the potential impact of their decisions on clinical staff and patients.
In this way, physician executives are able to improve the lines of communication between clinical staff and administration, which ranks high in importance for most physicians. In a 2022 JPS-MGMA study, physicians ranked two-way communication with management as the most important factor in job satisfaction — above compensation. However, when asked to rate their employers in this area, just one in four said two-way communication at their organization was “good” or “very good.” Physician executives are well positioned to improve in this area and thus increase physician job satisfaction at their organizations.
Market Creating More Physician Leaders
In order to stay relevant in today’s market, healthcare organizations must act more like corporations, with patients as customers. This corporatization of medicine is creating more business-minded physicians. In the past, physicians were focused primarily on diagnosing and delivering care. Now, physicians in every type of practice setting are all too aware of the need to grow the patient base, obtain referrals and positive online reviews, and of course, stay up to date on insurance-related issues. For these reasons, every physician receives an education in the business of healthcare from day one.
While many receive this education by default, still others are doubling down on their advanced degrees, either opting to pursue an MBA alongside their MD or choosing to go back to school for an MHA or MBA while working full-time as a physician. The number of physicians who also have a business degree is increasing annually.
As more and more physicians gain the foundational business skills required to lead healthcare organizations, the candidate pool for physician executive jobs expands, making it more likely that organizations will be able to hire physicians for executive jobs successfully.
Role of Physician Executive Evolving
As organizations seek new ways to reach patients and improve the way care is delivered, they will need leaders who not only understand business but who are also experts in the services sold — in this case, healthcare. Now more than ever, organizations need physician executives who not only serve as a bridge between administration, clinical staff, and patients; they need physician executives to think strategically about how to grow the patient base and innovate on the best ways to deliver care. The role of physician executive is evolving, and as it expands, physician executives will only become more valuable to the organizations they serve.
If your organization is seeking a physician executive to lead your organization, the Physician Executive Search team at Jackson Physician Search is eager to leverage our considerable network to help you find the best physician leader for your organization. Every physician executive role is unique, and we look forward to learning more about your needs. Reach out today for more information.