Physician Leadership Lessons from a Super Bowl Champion

Physician Leadership Lessons from a Super Bowl Champion

Editor’s note: Be sure to listen to the companion podcast episode on physician leadership with Dr. John Michels.  It’s a phenomenal conversation, jam-packed with tons of great insights on how to lead a team and run a business.  As a former Super Bowl Champion and current physician entrepreneur, Dr. Michels knows what it takes to succeed, both on and off the field.

When you’re a physician, you are a leader.

From the first day you put on your stethoscope, nurses are looking to you for orders.  Patients are looking to you for advice.  Colleagues are looking to you for knowledge.  But, what does it really take to be a physician leader?  Here are 12 concepts that any aspiring physician leader should know.

Physician Leadership Concept #1: Age doesn’t matter

With a few exceptions, no one cares whether you are 30 years old or 50.  When you’re treating a patient, the only thing they care about is whether you are competent to care for them.

This concept hold true about race, gender, sexual orientation, and schooling.  Again, there are some exceptions where bigoted people will hold certain traits against you, but that’s the exception, not the rule.  Don’t let that change how you practice medicine.

Be excellent, no matter what!

Physician Leadership Concept #2: Life gets harder

Each stage of your medical training is harder than the previous one.  Life as an attending is typically even harder than when you were a trainee.  You will struggle with entitled patients and staff, underpayment from insurance companies, and administrative hassles.

Your patients are expecting your best, so make sure that you’re giving them your best!

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Physician Leadership Concept #3: Always be learning

As physicians, there are always new things we can do to get better at our craft.  If you’re not constantly staying up to date on the latest technologies, medicines, and clinical practice strategies, you’ll fall behind.  As a result, your patients won’t get the care that they deserve.

Physician Leadership Concept #4: Problem solving

One of the goals of higher education is to learn how to think critically, how to be a problem solver.  As a practitioner, you’ll always encounter challenges that are new.  Your goal in your training years should be to learn how to think critically, not just memorize details for a test.

If you can regurgitate information for a test but you can’t synthesize it to tackle a clinical problem, you’re missing out.  Any time you’re studying, training, or learning new concepts, think about how to apply that information in a systematic way.  That way, you’ll be able to tackle any new challenge that comes your way.

Physician Leadership Concept #5: Decisiveness

We have to be able to make decisions in medicine, based on accumulation of knowledge and experience.  Then, you have to have the ability to adapt and course-correct if you’re things are going wrong.  Don’t let fear of being wrong paralyze you into inaction.

Physician Leadership Concept #6: Trust your training

Every situation brings nervousness, but once you starting tackling it, your training kicks in and you just get the job done.  Trust your training.  Lean into that experience and allow that to boost your confidence!

Physician Leadership Concept #7: Trust your nurses!

The nursing staff are the ones who protect the physician’s blind side.  You’ll learn a lot of incredibly useful information from your nurses.  A lot of times, the patients will tell the nurses things that they won’t tell you!

Treat your nurses with respect, empathy, and seriousness.  They are your helpers, and the protect you by giving you the information you need to care for your patients.

Physician Leadership Concept #8: Make others better

One of the hallmarks of a phenomenal physician is that he or she makes everyone on the team better.  If you’re constantly seeking to help others succeed at their jobs, your patients will get better care, and you’ll have a much stronger team.

You can’t be the one who always gets the credit.  The best sign of a physician leader is how effective they are at seeing that others get credit for the excellent work that they do.

Physician Leadership Concept #9: Have fun!

When you’re having fun, you perform better!

Physician Leadership Concept #10: Have a good attitude

Your staff will tend to absorb your attitude.  If you’re having a bad day and you bring that into the office with you, it will cast a pall on the entire staff.  They’ll be more nervous around you, and your patients will sense that.

Our attitudes may influence our staff’s attitudes for decades, and those ripple effects may affect many people.  Have an attitude of excitement, intentionality, decency, and competence, and your staff will take on those traits as well.

Physician Leadership Concept #11: Maintain high standards

Don’t accept anything less than excellent.  “Just fine” isn’t fine.  When you notice someone not getting the job done or having a bad attitude, address it right away.  Maybe it’s a simple course correction to get them back on track.

Your patients demand and deserve excellent care.  If you settle for “just ok,” you’re doing your patients a disservice.

Physician Leadership Concept #12: Teamwork

The practice of medicine is all about teamwork!  No one practices medicine completely on their own.  Empower your staff, treat them well, and celebrate them for the good work that they do.

Final Thoughts

As a physician, remember that you are a leader.  It’s inescapable.  I think we should embrace the role!  That doesn’t mean that every physician needs to take on a committee chair position or run for chief of staff.

Being a leader is more about helping others succeed and serving people the way you would expect them to serve your family if your family members were patients.  Everyone is in a position to do that.

Further Reading


Comment below

Please leave a comment below!  What leadership strategies do you employ that have been the most successful for you?



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