Brigham and Women's turns doctors into leaders. Here's how.

Physician accountability, follow-up networking key to continuing development

In an effort to improve its leadership culture, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) worked with the Harvard Business School (HBS) to create a leadership training program that teach physicians strategies to become more efficient and collaborative.

Jessica Dudley, CMO of the Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization, writes about the program in this month's Harvard Business Review and identifies four key components of effective leadership programs:

  • They provide fundamental leadership tools;
  • They identify ways for physicians to lead and offer necessary support;
  • They hold leaders accountable for progress; and
  • They emphasize the importance of leadership.

Background on the program

Seven years ago, BWH created the Brigham Leadership Program to give physician leaders a chance to enhance their knowledge of:

  • Hospital finances;
  • Organizational behavior;
  • Management skills;
  • Personal leadership style; and
  • Team dynamics.

The program is available to all Brigham doctors, scientists, and clinical or administrative staff. However, it has an acceptance rate of just 60%, and about 90% of enrollees are physicians. All participants must receive sponsorship from a leader in a senior academic department.  So far, 285 leaders have completed the training program.

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Classes—which include lectures by local hospital leaders, small group discussions, and care-based learning—are spread across 10 months and taught mostly by HBS faculty.

In addition to classes, all enrollees must complete a group project that highlights what they learned from the program and requires them to develop an innovative solution to a current challenge at the hospital. For instance, one team looked at the role physicians play in optimizing a hospital's EHR system and recommended making employees with previous experience using the system into "super users" who initiate positive messages and provide reinforcement during implementation.

Results of the program

All program participants are required to complete a pre- and post-course self-assessment. On average, participants report a 30% increase in their leadership and management skills proficiency. Of individuals who have completed the program:

  • 23% have achieved academic promotion at Harvard Medical School;
  • 20% have received a promotion at BWH; and
  • 12% have been recruited to serve in leadership roles outside of either institution.

One reason participants have been so receptive to the program is the change in venue and teaching methodology—which reinforces that, despite domain expertise, physicians and other clinical leaders still have much to learn.

The hospital has also launched two other programs, one specializing in clinical skills leadership development and one promoting negotiation skills improvement.  More than 200 physicians, scientists, and other clinical staff have participated in those two programs.

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What comes next?

However, completing the training programs is just the first step in BWH's leadership development initiative, Dudley writes.

The hospital assigns graduates "hospital-wide efforts" that require clinical leadership, such as redesigning the care process at the facility or addressing changes in strategy related to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

One such project required leaders to develop and implement an electronic referral system in order to increase patient access and provider satisfaction. Over the past year, BWH has decreased outside referrals by 18% and tripled physician satisfaction with the referral process.

Meanwhile, to keep doctors accountable for their continued development, BWH makes available peer-level data regarding department and specific physician performance in order to hold leaders accountable for the care they provide.

And to reinforce the leadership culture, graduates of the programs attend networking sessions several times annually to discuss ongoing efforts for improvement in their departments and to remind one another that collaboration is key to advancing care (Dudley, Harvard Business Review, 12/12).

Becoming a better leader

Most staff aren't naturally great leaders, but studies show that leadership and management can be taught. Use our Leadership Competency Diagnostic to help your managers further develop their strengths and focus on opportunities for improvement.

And it's never too early to start grooming a great manager. See our Succession Management Implementation Guide to ensure you deliberately chose your future leaders—don’t let circumstances choose them for you.

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