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Hire Physician Executives With These 5 Skills

Jackson Physician Search
January 24, 2023

The pandemic may have driven some physician executives into early retirement, but for others, a sense of duty caused them to delay instead. Now, with the worst of the pandemic behind us, we may be seeing an increase in turnover among healthcare and physician executives. As administrators seek to replace departing leaders and hire physician executives, they should look both internally and externally for physicians who possess the skills and traits of an effective physician executive. So, what exactly should they look for? 

What are the Must-Have Skills for Physician Executives? 

Great physician executives need many of the same skills and traits that any strong leader possesses, regardless of industry. They should be solid decision-makers, have excellent communication skills, and know how to delegate. Certainly, the nature of being a physician requires some skills in these areas, but not all leadership skills are inherent to physicians. After all, medical school is almost solely focused on teaching future physicians how to care for patients. Leadership skills must be learned on the job — if they are learned at all. 

According to a September MGMA Stat poll, only 53% of medical groups provide any type of management training to staff. This means that many physicians seeking physician executive jobs must be trained externally. Those with foresight may have simultaneously pursued MD and MBA degrees in one of the many increasingly popular MD/MBA programs. For others, this may mean pursuing an MBA in the evening after a full day of seeing patients. 

Does every physician executive need an MBA? Not necessarily. Physician executives do need a strong understanding of the business of medicine, but this can be learned on the job from a strong mentor or in a management training program. It’s the soft skills of leadership that may be more difficult, but not impossible, to teach. 

Evaluating Soft Skills in Physician Executive Candidates

According to Dirk Jansson, Director of Physician Executive Search at Jackson Physician Search, the most effective physician executives lead by example and have the respect of their peers. While he acknowledges that the role of physician executive is different for each organization, ideal candidates have certain soft skills in common. They have high emotional intelligence and are active listeners, good communicators, and excel at developing relationships. 

Dirk’s list certainly seems like a good place to start, but how do you evaluate these traits in your physicians, or in physician executive candidates, for that matter? 

Hire Physician Executives Who…

…Lead By Example

When observing internal candidates, look for a physician who sets the tone for the whole group. He or she has the ability to energize the group simply by being energetic. Others may or may not seek his or her advice directly, but they watch his or her actions closely and follow suit. 

This quality may be difficult to evaluate in external candidates. Use behavioral interview questions and ask them to tell you about a time they led by example, or more specifically, a time they were tasked with implementing a new process and how they went about getting buy-in from the group. 

…Have High Emotional Intelligence

Look for physicians who are in tune with their own emotions and can recognize and adapt to the emotions of others. Put simply; they know how to “read the room.” Of course, in practice, it’s more complicated. A good physician executive knows that one’s words don’t always tell the whole story. He or she can perceive what lies behind a person’s words or even his or her countenance. An effective physician executive can adapt his or her style accordingly. 

Watch how physicians interact with each other and with staff, and you can often guess who has high emotional intelligence simply by their sense of ease as they adapt to different conversation partners. 

…Who are Active Listeners

Ideal physician executives listen more than they talk. They ask thought-provoking questions to learn more about the given topic. They don’t assume they are the authority on all subjects but rather exist in a constant state of learning. They seek out the opinions of others and make an effort to understand what is being said, even if they ultimately disagree. 

…Who are Good Communicators

Physician executives must be able to clearly convey ideas and information in a way that resonates with the listener. Clarity is critical — he or she doesn’t hide behind the message or use vagueness to ease the impact of unwelcome news. Rather, an impactful physician executive is transparent with information and welcomes feedback and discussion. 

…Who Know How to Develop Relationships

Perhaps above all else, physician executives must excel at building and maintaining relationships. Much of a physician executive’s value is in the respect they garner from other physicians and staff, so an effective leader will maintain those relationships and continue to act in ways that earn respect and esteem of physicians and staff.  

If you can identify a physician executive candidate with these five skills, you are certainly well on your way to hiring the ideal physician executive candidate. On the other hand, if you are struggling to find physician executive candidates who check all these boxes, it may be time to partner with a national physician recruitment firm with expertise in this area. Reach out today to learn more.

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