Physicians have gone through college working hard to perform in the top of their graduation class as pre-meds, hoping to get into medical school. They try to set themselves apart in medical school as high performers to get into the most competitive residencies. Once they have achieved their residency and are out in practice, they commonly perceive themselves—as the community perceives them—as intellectual elites. This can, however, have a significant negative impact and explain some of the frustration with their capacity to impact the decisions that affect them every day. This loss of control proves to be exceedingly frustrating. Knowing they are smart enough and bright enough to process the problems and even offer solutions, the frustration continues to build. In short, there appears to be no avenue for the use of their intellectual talents other than what they were trained for, which is the practice of medicine. One may be intellectually gifted and talented, but not have the executive skill set to lead, the emotional makeup to handle conflict or the immediate ability to set a vision, etc. Most of these skills can be taught, but may not come naturally to many physicians.
In addition to their intellectual elitism, physicians also isolate themselves as a cohesive group in any organization because of their unique training ritual that all physicians go through. They have gone through a rite of passage through medical school and residency—a demanding ordeal, almost a hazing, if you will—that is unique to this profession. This common "badge of honor" creates an immediate ease of conversation and attachment among MDs who don't even know each other, all because they have had the same extraordinary experience in training. This can, in a complex organization, lead to physicians isolating themselves as a unit from nonphysicians, leading to the stereotypic labeling of arrogance and social isolationism, which many doctors have been accused of in the past.
So how does leadership handle an intellectually talented group of professionals? Very simply. Use their intellectual capital in areas other than the practice of medicine. Physicians are problem-solvers, have tremendous work ethic and want to contribute. Leadership should try to incorporate their physician staff in nonconventional areas in their organization, such as human resources, finance, etc. The physician view may be different than others in these key strategic areas, but a different perspective may allow a fresh look at some old problems.