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Your First Decision as a Physician Leader will be Your Most Critical

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As mentioned in a recent blog post, if you’re a physician who wants to be in administration, you should be prepared to confront challenges immediately upon accepting the position. That’s one reason why you should be formulating a general strategic vision that you can communicate in job interviews.

Kenneth Flowe, MD, chief medical officer at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, Minn., walked into a situation in which communication among departments and within departments was struggling.

He had previously worked as a Master Trainer with Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety (TeamSTEPPS™) from the Department of Defense and the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ). TeamSTEPPS™ is an evidence-based set of tools that fosters consistent communication and enhanced respect among care-team members.

His first step was to identify which department’s communication situation needed his attention first. Dr. Flowe realized that the OB care team was already using evidence-based strategies, and the framework was already in place and the environment was right for TeamSTEPPS™.

This was his most important decision early on, he said. If he had chosen the wrong department, his proposal to use TeamSTEPPS™, along with his ability to establish trust among the other departments, would have fallen apart.

“If we had wanted to start something like this in surgery, for example, it would not have gone as well because parts of the critical team weren’t ready,” he said. “Surgery is very safe, and staff and physicians have implemented some of the TeamSTEPPS™ techniques even, but they didn’t have the same innovative mindset that they did in OB. And a mindset of innovation is really key for having something like this work.”

With 800 deliveries annually, the OB was busy enough to demonstrate the success or failure of the program, and thanks to the popularity of the simulations with the entire OB team, TeamSTEPPS™ has been an overwhelming success within the OB.

Evidence for this was found on the before-and-after survey results using the AHRQ’s Hospital Survey on Patient Safety. The already-good scores showed universal intradepartmental improvement.

Thanks to the OB department’s success, TeamSTEPPS™ began expanding to other departments this past fall.

“Even people who initially didn’t want to do the simulations were able to say it was a valuable opportunity, and they were able to do things they didn’t expect to learn,” Dr. Flowe said. “There’s always skepticism towards any change, especially for professionals who pride themselves on doing a good, safe job. And in the OB case, they were doing a great job already, but they still had the innovative mindset to try something a little bit different, and it has had pretty significant results.”

As physicians who may be seeking out leadership roles in their next job, be aware that your first decision will likely be your most critical. Equip yourself with the communication skills and the institutional knowledge needed to make this decision wisely.

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