I was about 5 years into my medical career. It was a busy and exciting time. I finally felt confident in my clinical skills and I was ready to immerse myself in a new subject matter. I had not yet considered a management career.
My partners and I had started a pension plan and we were making regular contributions. But none of us really knew how we should invest our contributions. I realized that I needed to learn about investing.
I needed to go through a crash course on mutual funds, stocks, bonds and asset allocation. And the Internet did not exist, so there were obviously no blogs like White Coat Investor, Physician on Fire or Future Proof MD to read.
So, what did I do?
Like many medical colleagues who seem to be afflicted with (blessed with?) hypomania and obsessive compulsive disorder, it was time for my first round of post-medical education TOTAL IMMERSION!
I’m sure you have seen this in some of your physician friends, if not yourself. You get into something and it becomes an all-consuming obsession. You need to find and devour every possible resource on a topic – written, audio or video. First, you start with the free and easily available, then move to low-cost, and then high cost, sources of information. I've done this with investing, bluegrass guitar playing, rock-climbing, rollerblading, blogging and other subjects.
For this first obsession resources included:
- Reading articles in Smart Money, Forbes, Fortune, etc.
- Requesting free financial newsletters
- Listening to financial radio personalities like Bob Brinker and Dave Ramsey
- Subscribing to one or two newsletters, like Bob Brinker’s Marketimer and The Kiplinger Letter
- Watching CNBC day and night
- Reading the latest books on investing (too numerous to list – and out of date now!)
- Starting an investment club (see Better Investing)
You get the idea.
So, how does this apply to the physician intrigued by a career in management?
Well, you need to decide if it is really what you want to pursue before spending potentially large dollars and lots of time on it. Unfortunately, there are not as many readily available resources about physician management. But there are a few that should be explored before jumping in.
Let me list what I think are the bests ways to learn about management before investing too much time and money in the effort.
4 Steps to Learning About Management
Let's look at the four steps you can easily take to get a clear understanding whether this might be the right career for you.
1. Reflect on Your Motives
This step has the advantage of being totally free. You should reflect honestly about why you are thinking about beginning this journey.
Is it because you are burnt out, or overwhelmed by your clinical practice? Does the fantasy of sitting in an office, giving instructions to a direct report seem less frustrating and stress-free? Are you thinking that management is a nice pre-retirement way to slow down?
The fact is, you may get just as stressed and burnt out in a management position as a clinical position. There are budget and staff constraints, difficult decisions, accountability for your performance, and more work than the available time. You're paid well, so you must demonstrate a measurable return on investment for your salary. And you must not be timid about terminating underperforming directors and managers on your team.
Are you attracted to management because you wish to help larger groups of patients and work in a team on big projects? Do you enjoy big challenges? Are you comfortable with more uncertainty than the typical physician?
Do you prefer one-on-one interactions with patients? Or do you feel comfortable in front of a group of peers or board members? Do you enjoy working on quality improvement and patient safety? What do you think about confronting your colleagues about unacceptable behavior or questionable clinical practices?
If you are not running from an old career, but embracing a new one, then you are probably on the right track. But there are other careers to consider (such as those discussed in Options for a Non-Clinical Career).
2. Talk to Physician Leaders
If you are acquainted with a chief medical officer, vice president for medical affairs, chief quality officer or someone in a similar position, ask them to sit down over coffee and answer a few questions. Ask them how and why they went into management. What were the barriers to entry? Where did they learn about management and leadership?
This is also one of the best ways to find a mentor. Talk with several such persons. And make it a point to follow-up with them several months later. You don’t need to ask them to “be your mentor.” That can be scary to a leader. It feels like they need to commit to a formal role with a major time commitment. But just getting together to talk about management issues and career choices three or four times a year is not so threatening.
3. Read Everything You Can About Physician Leadership
You can scour the Internet for articles using Google Alerts. Look for articles that include keywords like physician executive, leader, administrator and manager.
You can pick up books like Growing Physician Leaders: Empowering Doctors to Improve Our Healthcare, The Six P's of Physician Leadership and Essentials of Medical Management.
4. Join the American Association for Physician Leadership
Here is where an investment will be required. Membership in the AAPL currently runs $295.00 per year. This is well below the annual cost for many professional societies. But it is a small investment given the resources that are available to members. (I have no financial incentive to recommend membership, but I have been a member for about 23 years).
Joining the organization will jumpstart the other three steps, because membership includes access to a journal, books, a job board, and online educational materials. There are several live conferences each year where networking can occur and mentorships can be developed.
I believe it is helpful to join even if you have not made a personal commitment to seek a management position, because the available resources will help to inspire you, and to decide whether to proceed or not.
Start the process outlined above and see if a management career is right for you.
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