Skip to main content

Growing Physician Executives: How to Develop a New Generation of Strong Leaders

Tara Osseck
March 7, 2024

It’s no secret that baby boomer physicians are retiring in large numbers, creating gaps in our healthcare system that will reverberate for years to come. While we typically think about the gaps in patient care, the growing wave of retirements creates another void in the C-suite of healthcare organizations, where physician executives add incredible value to the leadership team. Luckily, where there’s a gap, there’s also opportunity. 

To reduce the impact of physician executive retirements, healthcare organizations and physicians alike would do well to assess the leadership development tracks within their organizations. Intentional skill-building can lift early and mid-career physicians with leadership potential into executive roles that create organizational stability and promote retention. 

A curated leadership development program creates a strong foundation for your leadership team. It communicates to early and mid-career physicians and candidates that your organization is interested in their growth and development, which powerfully influences recruitment and retention. Well-defined leadership and development programs have the added benefit of creating clarity around your organization’s expectations when it comes to becoming a physician executive, which helps separate physicians with true potential from those who are ambitious but not yet ready or qualified for leadership.

Empowered Physicians Will Step Up

Physicians who have a healthy relationship with their executives or employers will feel empowered to share their leadership goals. Organizations that are committed to developing their teams may be able to support those goals financially and schedule-wise so that early and mid-career physicians can grow their capabilities.

It’s important that physicians are empowered to articulate their ambitions regarding leadership and seek out opportunities where they can find them. The growing wave of physician retirements is creating a new and different circumstance within your organization, so illuminating the path to leadership is the best way to identify those with the potential to step up. Creating opportunities for physician representation on the administrative side of the organization, involving them in quality improvement efforts, inviting them to interview medical students, teach as part of a residency program, or represent your organization in community outreach are all great ways to give a potential leader a chance to shine.

Preparing the Next Generation for Leadership

The ideal time to develop physician leaders is before they need to step into the role. While many physicians are natural leaders with a strong clinical foundation, the move into organizational leadership requires more than expertise. Exposing early and mid-career physicians to the financial and operational aspects that lead to good patient outcomes and satisfaction can accelerate their ability to step into leadership. There are several paths to physician leadership that accomplish this:

Academic Path: MBA and MHA programs are academic paths that can boost working physicians’ administrative skills. Many are structured to accommodate the demanding schedules that are typical of many physicians. Self-paced degree programs are a great entryway into the C-suite because they give a window into the administrative side of the healthcare business.

Certificate Programs offered by associations such as the AAPL and ACHE and universities like Carnegie Mellon can only help and will never hinder one’s career growth. These certificate programs often provide exposure to administrative and policy decisions that the C-suite must navigate.

Mentorship: Mentorship can add another layer to the career development journey. Encouraging physicians to seek out other physicians who are a few steps ahead of them as leaders can bring your organization’s career ladder into focus in ways that a degree or certificate program cannot. If you’re an administrator, mapping out a formal physician mentorship program that identifies physicians with leadership potential reinforces your commitment to a physician. It serves as a retention strategy and a way to grow your executive team’s capabilities.

Leadership and Development Programs: Whether formal or informal – these programs can serve to give physicians the chance to develop skills that they can’t necessarily learn through a degree or certificate program. Physician executives will need skills in finance, such as creating and balancing a budget, forecasting and allocating FTEs, and HR, where they’ll need to know how to navigate sensitive personnel situations and grow their understanding of HR law and policy. Creating a program with rotations through these roles or giving mid-career physicians budget oversight can prepare them for future leadership roles.

Executive Coaching: It’s one thing to hone your communication skills in patient care, but it’s another to stand up in front of a medical staff of 1,000 and move the audience to action. Speaking coaching or other executive coaching programs can boost a potential leader’s capacity for becoming a charismatic leader who can take your organization to the next level.

Where Ambitious Physicians Look for Leadership Opportunity

Young physicians are often the most openly ambitious. However, they might not know how to articulate what they want and what they bring to the table yet. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for the leadership track; it simply means they need coaching and advice. Many times, that’s where a recruiter can come in and help them position themselves for the roles they want. With a little bit of coaching, physicians who are one to two years out of training can be guided to step back and think broadly about what they want to accomplish in their first five years and then consider what a fast track to leadership might look like. 

Critical access and rural settings can often create a fast track to leadership to strengthen their recruitment strategy. Private practices may be able to offer an accelerated path to partnership or access to a strong and involved team of mentors who will appeal to younger candidates. Ambitious physicians will seek out these opportunities for leadership and development, so a clear track could tip the scales in your favor when deciding where they want to work. 

In addition to enhancing recruitment efforts, offering physicians a clear path to leadership may also positively influence retention. Investing in their development shows physicians they are valued and have a future within the organization. Most importantly, developing physician leaders today is the best way to ensure your organization will have strong leaders who will serve the community’s healthcare needs now and into the future.

About Tara Osseck

With more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Regional Vice President of Recruiting Tara Osseck specializes in matching healthcare organizations with physicians who are a strong fit for the role and the culture. Her healthcare career began as a physician liaison. It quickly expanded to include physician recruitment, strategic planning, and business development, working for various hospitals throughout Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Based in St. Louis, Osseck leads the firm’s Midwest Division, placing providers across the Midwest and Upper Midwest. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a master’s in health care administration and management from The University of Memphis.

partner icon

Partner With Jackson Physician Search

Recruiting physicians, physician executives, and advanced practice providers requires a partner with a proven track record of delivering on the toughest recruiting challenges. Since 1978, our team has delivered for thousands of clients nationwide, filling their searches quickly and cost-effectively from our extensive network.

Initiate a Search