Physicians have shown an increased interest in shaping the national agenda on healthcare, resulting in the growth of healthcare executive positions filled by physicians and increased competition between physicians and lay administrators for these jobs. Several years ago, in recognition of physicians contributions to healthcare organizations, Modern Healthcare and sister publication Modern Physician began publishing an annual list of the 50 most powerful physician-executives in the U.S.
Interestingly, physicians named to this coveted list seem to change as often as the cast of characters in a prime-time television showonly a handful have been designated most powerful more than one time. When readers of Modern Physician were polled in an online survey as to whether physician-executives were becoming a more powerful and influential force to effect positive change in the nations healthcare-delivery system, respondents were divided on the issue.
What factors constitute whether a physician-executive has staying power and is seen as a perennial leader in the eyes of his or her peers and the public? Possibilities range from popularity and charisma to true leadership power.
Unfortunately, the method used by Modern Healthcare and Modern Physician to determine the 50 most powerful physician-executives does not use explicit criteria. Readers simply nominate physicians online on the basis of whom they believe are powerful leaders, so we can only speculate about the attributes that make physicians powerful and influential.
Because the list of the most powerful physician-executives is composed primarily of chief medical officers of large healthcare delivery systems, it stands to reason that doctors affiliated with traditional systems of care are viewed as powerful. By working in clinical-care settings, as opposed to industry, government or other sectors, physicians have the best opportunity to demonstrate their strengths while wearing white coats, business suits or both.
This is not to say that HMO medical directors and pharmaceutical physicians, for example, do not make significant contributions to medicine and cannot be strong leaders. But it does suggest that once physicians leave mainstream medicine for a career in industry, especially if they stop practicing medicine, their contributions are less likely to be recognized by the medical community.
To gain greater recognition, physician-executives working in nontraditional settings must achieve impact through their work with professional societies, patient-advocacy groups and policymaking organizations. They must participate in a variety of medically relevant activities and contribute to the medical literature.
Additional criteria, utilized by Modern Healthcare in its selection of the top minority executives in healthcare, include:
- Successfully served as a leader or managed an organization or company.
- Showed the ability or power to effect change in the healthcare industry.
- Demonstrated a willingness to share expertise with others in the field.
- Served as a role model or mentor to aspiring healthcare executives.
- Assumed a leadership position in the industry outside of the individuals own organization or company.
It may be difficult for physicians to retain power once they leave practice, but it is certainly not impossible.
Arthur Lazarus, M.D.Senior director of clinical researchAstraZenecaWilmington, Del.