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Helping Physicians Become Better Leaders

Participants attended a workshop on strategic planning led by Laurie Pascal, Vice President, Business Planning and Development.

  • Date: 8/16/2012

For most physicians, leadership development isn't part of their formal education. If it happens at all it occurs on the job, through a sort of cultural osmosis of mentors and existing leaders. That's why a new program aimed at fostering physician leaders is so unique.

"Today's health care environment is calling on physicians to take on greater leadership responsibilities," said Amy Wasserman, Manager, Organizational Development. "The physicians selected for this program have been identified as some of BIDMC's key talent-initiating multi-disciplinary projects, starting new services and bringing greater efficiencies to their respective department. Making an investment in building physician leaders not only benefits the individual but also, the performance of the organization."

Participants have the program high marks. "The Physician Leadership program was a wonderful opportunity to begin to develop the skills that one needs to bring about change in a sometimes overwhelming place in the midst of very challenging times," said David Yassa, MD, Medicine. "The program gave me the chance to see that there are other people who struggle with the same challenges. The thing that I enjoyed the most was the realization that we can change the way we do things, and lots of us want to change the way we do things so that we can provide better care for our patients."

The video below offers an in depth look at the program and includes detailed interviews with all the participants.



"This program taught me that being a leader requires a very different skill set than what's required as a physician," said Jennifer Pope, MD, Emergency Medicine. "I learned how to recognize good leadership skills, practice these skills in a safe environment and then apply these techniques to my own clinical and administrative environment. We received tremendous support to think and question our current approach to leadership and our coaches pushed us to think and act outside of our comfort zones. This was an incredible opportunity that I think all physician leaders, no matter their age, should go through."

With support from an $80K grant from the Physicians' Foundation, this initiative is being co-led and designed by Ken Sands, MD, Senior Vice President, Silverman Institute for Health Care Quality, an internal physician advisory group, and Organizational Development. The one-year program recently celebrated its first graduation class of eight physician leaders selected by their Department Chiefs.

"These physician leaders are highly regarded as excellent clinicians and they have also demonstrated leadership potential through roles and responsibilities they have undertaken on behalf of the institution," said Sands.

Among the criteria by which they were selected into this program is a strong orientation to learning and self-discovery. The participants are:

  • Joseph DeAngelis, MD, Orthopaedics
  • Sheila Barnett, MD, Anesthesia
  • David Feinbloom, MD, Medicine
  • Christopher Fischer, MD, Emergency Medicine
  • John Mitchell, MD, Anesthesia
  • Jennifer Pope, MD, Emergency Medicine
  • Anasuya Vasudevan, MD, Anesthesia
  • David Yassa, MD, Medicine


"The leadership experience of those selected runs from just appointed to 10 years," said Sands. "Primarily the focus has been on formalizing a process for physician leaders to learn proven tools and techniques rather than just learning on the fly."

The program included a 360-degree evaluation from peers, and supervisor(s), as well as a self-evaluation; a Myers-Briggs personality assessment and the creation of an individual development plan with input from Chiefs about what each wanted to achieve. "Each participant's plan was very different from the others so it was a very individualized journey," said Wasserman.

The group met with a panel of clinical and administrative leaders from across BIDMC last September to learn how to "navigate BIDMC," which included perspectives about committee structures, how decisions get made, and how to involve stake-holders in leading change.

There was a two day off-site at which they learned about communication and how to demonstrate leadership presence in meetings. Using theater-based improv communication techniques, they presented and got immediate feedback on verbal, non-verbal, body language and content skills. They also met as a group for a breakfast discussion with Kevin Tabb, MD, President and CEO, to discuss being a physician leader in a hospital setting.

Participants attended a workshop on strategic planning led by Laurie Pascal, Vice President, Business Planning and Development. Additionally, faculty from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard School of Public Health led sessions on how to foster change, negotiation skills and conflict resolution.

"All identified a project to work on - either something on the back-burner or key piece of work they wanted help on," said Wasserman. "Each was assigned a mentor, a more seasoned physician leader in the organization who they met with intermittingly to talk about being a physician leader at BIDMC. They were also assigned a coach, a member of our Organizational Development team, and they met regularly to focus on their development goals and explore issues that might be getting in the way of strengthening their leadership."

"Finally, one of the outcomes of this experience has been the colleagueship that was fostered during the year. The collaboration and teamwork they can bring is incredibly valuable to this organization," said Wasserman.