Portrait of multi racial doctors conversing with staff in background

Pursue Leadership Skills for Success in Med School, Health Care Career

Prospective medical school students must work to become comfortable and effective leaders. 

Portrait of multi racial doctors conversing with staff in background

Whether it's guiding a conversation with a patient or nurse, physicians of all levels must learn to be leaders.

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We often cannot find precise answers to questions of what is leadership, or what makes a good leader. But we certainly know what it’s like when there ​is a lack of leadership. 

The culture of medicine can be described as is "see one, do one​ and teach one," and this is delivered via a team of caregivers, including nurses, phlebotomists, technicians, pharmacists and housekeepers – not solely physicians. The physician practices the art of medicine by coordinating care. Learning to lead is fundamental to being a successful clinician. 

Without leadership, the entire organization suffers in morale, communication, productivity and labor retention. Instead of a cohesive team, each individual worker is out for themselves and not focused on the best interests​ of the company.

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The words physician and leader are not synonymous. Physicians are trained to be independent thinkers, which frequently creates problems when needing to be led. 

In general, physicians avoid, detest or resist being led. While some physicians are routinely in positions of leadership, others will assume a role in a team of caregivers, still providing leadership for subordinates and patients, but also setting aside ego to follow leadership thus benefiting the team’s care and service.

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Perhaps you did not go to medical school to become a health care leader. However, leadership skills are part of all physicians’ duties. You will guide conversations with patients or health care workers, act as a cheerleader for positive behaviors or deliver bad news. This all happens regardless of venue, whether it's a hospital, private office or boardroom.

Leadership is thrust upon interns and first-year residents. During residency in particular, team dynamics and leadership are critical. As you ascend the ranks, you garner more and more responsibility for managing staff.

You are not only responsible for patient care but also for an efficient and professional working environment. Medical teams either function or limp along based on the tone and leadership skills of the most senior physician, whether attending, chief resident or senior resident.

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Developing leadership skills early positions you for success. Some leaders are born, but the majority are made by circumstances and unforeseen opportunities. Leadership is a skill like any other that can be learned. Every opportunity can be used to develop and sharpen skills. Seeking leadership opportunities and mentors in leadership positions poises you to lead.

You can achieve this by identifying and mirroring the style of leaders you find inspirational. Discover an organization you enjoy, such as a sorority, fraternity, orchestra or religious group, and then practice leading by organizing an event, symposium, workshop or chapter meeting before holding an official position.

Envision yourself a leader and seek opportunities to develop leadership skills. As a physician, regardless of your official role, leadership is an essential part of your position.