Our current health care system requires physicians to adapt constantly. Because of this, physicians need to collaborate as a team to drive toward the best outcomes for all patients. This begs the question, how can physicians become better leaders while simultaneously dealing with constant change and increasing burnout?

Physicians are critical to delivering high-quality care. Yet, they are not able to truly steer how care is delivered, partly because they are experiencing high rates of burnout. We cannot expect physicians to deliver safe, efficient and patient-centered care while they are getting increasingly burnt out and bogged down by unnecessary burdens. Through its grant to the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation, The Physicians Foundation is improving physician wellbeing by enriching the leadership skills of physicians through the MSVF Physician Leadership Institute (MSVF PLI). MSVF PLI is a leadership program designed with physicians in mind. It trains and enables physicians and other health care professionals to tackle issues from population health to understanding conscious and unconscious biases, and the effect on health care. Mary Beth McIntire, chief programs officer, and Blair Curcie, program director, at the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation, discuss the latest on the leadership program and how it is improving physician wellbeing.

Q. Why is MSVF PLI important for physicians?

Without taking care of their own wellbeing, physicians cannot effectively lead their teams and care for patients. We want to provide our physicians with the necessary skills to recognize that taking care of themselves is important.

The Medical Society of Virginia Foundation developed and implemented a new kind of program that infuses leadership, helps physicians positively impact their workplaces and communities, and empowers their self-care skills, such as mindfulness. The program has helped us reimagine our Physician Leadership Institute. In addition, we’ve implemented a curriculum that is reflective of the current issues that physicians face today, such as entrepreneurship coupled with increased burnout.

Our program starts with a focus on ‘self,’ which helps physicians define their leadership styles, follower styles, and unconscious and conscious biases. Defining the nuances of physicians’ leadership styles helps them understand how to lead their teams more effectively.

Q. How is the program currently meeting its goal to support and empower physician leadership?

Currently, we’re exposing participants to several leadership approaches that can enhance their wellbeing in and outside of clinical settings. For instance, we’ve found that creative tasks, such as poetry, enhance listening skills. We’re looking forward to better understanding the effects of creativity on participants and its impact on their leadership skills and wellbeing.

We also utilize a “community of practice” model toto connect MSVF leaders and our faculty with the physicians in the program. It’s empowering for them to know that they have someone to lean on when facing hurdles related to leading their teams. We’re building a network of support in Virginia so that physicians can ‘phone a friend’ and rely on their colleagues for support.

MSVF PLI is creating an environment where teams can come together to learn, foster relationships across systems and pinpoint new ways to be effective leaders by:

  • Hosting a forum where physicians can come together as a community to share tips and tricks with one another;
  • Building confidence in physicians to lead and work in a team environment to solve issues within the health care system; and
  • Tackling the topic of physician burnout, along with ways to improve work/life balance.

As a result, the program has sparked many discussions about leadership skills and styles that need to occur more often among physicians and health system leaders.

Q. How is the program currently supporting female physicians specifically?

Female physicians experience burnout at higher rates (84%) compared to their male colleagues (74%). In most cases you’ll find that male physicians are more likely to recommend medicine as a career than their female colleagues. We’ve used these findings to focus on and better support our female physicians. It’s apparent that the unique experiences of women need to be addressed, so we’re looking to female physicians to share their perspective on the current landscape of the health care system. Piggybacking off that, it is also important that male physicians are allies to their female colleagues. Our goal is to learn from their real-life experiences and turn those insights into actions to better support all physicians.

Q. How has MSVF PLI impacted its members?

MSVF PLI is helping physicians lead health care. This year alone, we’ve already worked with 25 physicians from health systems, private practices and community health centers to elevate a diverse pool of perspectives to create lasting and impactful change.

But our work doesn’t stop after this leadership program. MSVF will continue to provide physicians opportunities to lead within the Medical Society of Virginia, serve on state-wide boards, as well as serve in leadership roles for other health care-related organizations.  We will also continue to connect physician leaders with each other to provide support, counsel and mentoring.

We were elated to hear that Varun Choudhary, MD, a participant in the program, was recently promoted to chief medical officer right in the middle of one of our programs! He shared that his participation in the program, along with the insights and skills gained, were important factors in his promotion. He is eager to implement those learnings to ignite change within his organization. This is an excellent example of physicians incorporating their takeaways and tailoring it for their personal growth as physician leaders.

We can no longer allow physicians to be left out of important discussions regarding the health care   system. Pivoting and approaching physician leadership through a different lens is imperative in an ever-evolving landscape. As physicians and health care professionals complete the program, we hope they leave as more informed leaders ready to drive transformation for their teams, their workplaces, their communities and therefore the entire commonwealth of Virginia.