Among the nearly 6,500 hospitals in the United States, only 235 are run by physician administrators - less than four percent.
It would be difficult to find a legal firm that is being run by someone without a law degree. Most of the top universities in our country are led by scholars, and sports teams often most excel when their leadership is an individual who has been an athlete themselves.
So why is it that so many of our hospitals - arguably the most important life-saving institution of modern society - are not run by doctors holding medical degrees, but by business executives who are several degrees of separation away from the patient for whom they are providing care?
There is research to support the theory that hospitals run by doctors will be more efficient and provide better patient care. In a study that compared hospital quality scores against the background of their leadership, researchers found that hospitals run by physicians had about 25% higher overall quality scores as compared to the scores of hospitals run by business managers - this increase rises to 33% in the category of hospitals dedicated to specialties such as cardiology or oncology.
Examples of hospital innovators who have gone against the grain in their efforts to promote physician leadership are Kaiser Permanente, the Mayo Clinic, or the Cleveland Clinic. All of these health systems are nationally renowned for focusing on quality patient care while successfully maximizing efficiency - the product of a hospital culture that brings physician providers and hospital administrators together to make important decisions, rather than separating the physicians from the administrators’ decision making process.
These examples underscore a recent trend of hospitals more frequently appointing physicians to prominent leadership roles. Here are just a few reasons why physicians are uniquely qualified to take on leadership roles:
Choosing a career in medicine is also making a lifelong commitment to continuously be learning. All physicians must complete continuing education requirements, and the best physicians will make concerted efforts to stay on top of advancements in this field. Physicians are constantly absorbing new information, making them more likely to seek out innovative ways to effectively run our health system.
Depending on the exact nature of their field, many physicians have been specifically trained to adapt and respond quickly in high-stress life-or-death situations. Their ability to balance the big picture and the smaller details is an important skill when it comes to problem-solving with a thoughtful approach to the many challenges we face in our healthcare system.
Collaboration of expertise
The purpose of medical training is to produce more experts in medicine and particular specialties, and physicians are accustomed to consulting with other medical professionals and seeking out second opinions. Physicians have the tendency to be more open-minded for this reason, and more likely to collaborate among peers and become exposed to diverse perspectives about the most innovative ways to manage hospital problems.
As a patient, I would much rather have my medical decisions made by a licensed MD who has my best interests at heart, as opposed to having major medical decisions be dictated by administrative protocols laid out by a business manager who I’ve never met. Physicians chose their career so that they could help people, and putting these selfless people in leadership roles (or at least consulting physicians regularly in large decisions) seems like an obvious decision if the true aim of the hospital is to improve patients’ health outcomes.
Scientists and communicators
The best physicians are the result of three factors: human compassion, medical expertise, and effective communication. Patient education requires that physicians can translate their medical jargon into a language that the average layperson can understand - in some ways, being a medical professional is a lot like being bilingual. Physicians who understand the science of medicine and can communicate it to non-medical persons are a major asset when working among a hospital’s administrative team instead of against them.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.