A successful Development program led by Barbara Healy Associates with Medical Directors at a Cancer Hospital to improve their leadership and management skills

A recent article in Medscape (https://www.medscape.com) Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019)was quite alarming as it identified the increase in burnout, depression and suicides within the medical profession.  While this is a very concerning development it uncovers some of the profound issues within our healthcare system and particularly the challenges Doctors are faced with today.  No one can deny that healthcare is undergoing dramatic changes with consolidation of private practices into networks, rapid computerization, increased involvement of the insurance industry in the system and constant new developments in patient care.

This rapid change has put enormous pressure on physicians.  While physicians as a group are some of the brightest and well-trained people in our societymany are unequipped when it comes to the emotional intelligence required to navigate this new environment.  This situation is sure to continue as change in the healthcare system is going to be constant and more then likely accelerate.

A year ago,Barbara Healy Associates was hired by the Chief Network Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer (Client) of a large and prestigious cancer hospital to work with ten Medical Directors of their satellite cancer centers.  The client was committed to supporting the Medical Directors with tools and strategies to improve their leadership and management skills.  The Medical Directors were provided with an Executive Coach to work with them on:

o   Understanding the environment of change

o   Understanding the importance of communication skills and the ability to interact with different communication styles

o   Creating time management practices to allow maximum patient care

o   Developing a common language that would enable peer support and the formation of a cohesive team

o   Focusing on personal growth and a higher level of job satisfaction

In undertaking this development program, a process involving four components was used.  (1) A group seminar was provided on communication styles with a personal communication style assessment and approaches for interacting with different styles.  In addition, the seminar provided insights into the coaching process and expectations.(2) Each Medical Director was provided with three face-to-facecoaching sessions.  The sessions included identification of personal and professional goals, the development of a plan to address the goals and support and ongoing feedback on progress toward achieving the goals.  (3) The team met for a quarterly group debriefing where the individual Directors were able to share their challenges and learnings.  (4) A final session with a training on how to become coach/leaders providing the Medical Directors skills to utilize the coaching model with their individual teams and to support each other as peer coaches.

“I feel like a member of a team’, “I feel empowered”, “I am much happier”, “I really think I am better at my job”, were some of the comments made by the Medical Directors at the final session.  Across the board there were expressions of gratitude for the support they received.   There was a deeper understanding of the real challenges and an improved insight into how to better navigate the complex issues they face with their leadership.Specifically, they identified the following:

o   There are structural issues and they are real.

o   Working as a team and continuing to develop the team is essential.

o   Self-care and meaning are essential to happiness and job satisfaction.

o   Acquiring new skills and insights are a necessary and ongoing part of their leadership role. 

In conclusion they agreed that for patient care to be of the highest quality the new environment requires continuing improvement with collaboration, individual and team learning and peer support to overcome feeling isolated.

Both management (Client) and front-line practitioners (Medical Directors) are committed to continuing the work for another year and we believe it will be both cost effective and result in a stronger and higher performing system.

Barbara Healy