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Top Physician Personality Strengths and Challenges

March 1, 2017


Data is starting to reveal interesting personality and behavioral competency profiles of physicians and physician leaders. These findings should help organizations select physicians and physician leaders, establish reasonable performance expectations, and design training content, particularly as organizations recognize that they are expecting something new from physicians and physician leaders.

Physician Behavioral Assessments

If you think about physicians as highly trained, valuable organizational assets, why would you not use all of the tools at your disposal to ensure their success? Our experience has been that physicians and organizations have resisted the use of these tools because of tradition - the perception that medicine is too unique a field to benefit from tools.  Not to mention a concern that physician candidates, particularly, will respond negatively.

What we’ve learned after several projects:

  • The pressures and challenges are overcoming this resistance as systems, and physicians, are looking for solutions.
  • Physicians are naturally skeptical, but once they appreciate the science of psychometric testing and see how the results can be linked to organization performance and their own performance, they embrace not only they data, but the chance to have productive discussions about how to use it.
  • It’s important to use assessment tools that are meaningful for physicians. A basic EQ or personality test is, often, no more than “interesting” to physicians. They can’t make practical use of the results.
  • Despite concerns, physician candidates for employment with health systems have not responded negatively to being asked to take an assessment. It has not created a barrier to attracting candidates, and the organizations are finding the information gleaned incredibly helpful in understanding the candidates.
  • Physician leaders appreciate being treated like other executives – exploring the leadership traits that will help them to succeed – as long as the results are in a context that allows them to make real changes.
  • Leadership is leadership, and physician leaders need the same traits as leaders in other fields. What differs is the context in which these traits manifest themselves and the profiles that physicians bring to leadership roles. 

Our work has involved larger systems, small community hospitals and academic medical centers. We’ve assessed front line physicians, medical directors, faculty members and department chairs. Some use assessments for training and development. Others use them as part of the hiring process, in conjunction with a more focused, structured, physician-specific interviewing program.

Physician Personality Profiles

it’s important to note that none of these findings are universal. We are merely commenting on common personality profiles we see with physicians, particularly as they compare to other professions.


No surprise, here. Physicians are smart. We don’t even bother testing pure intellect, but we do examine various thinking styles and related behavioral traits. As a group, they score high in learning agility, analysis, interpreting information, and strategic thinking.  The latter is important as strong clinical thought processes don’t ALWAYS correlate with the ability to think strategically or critically about complex organizational issues.

Physician education and training relies heavily on physician-to-physician coaching and mentoring. It comes as no surprise, then, that motivating others, coaching and developing talent are natural strengths.

Similarly, it is no surprise, that they score high on an inclination toward drive and initiative


Planning and organizing. A physician can be incredibly successful as a clinician without much in the way of planning and organizing skills. Some practice managers would argue that their entire job is to establish a setting where a physician can be a good, productive, clinician - with almost no planning and organization responsibilities. This deficiency becomes a problem when the physician assumes leadership roles.

Emotional intelligence. Even groups of highly successful physicians often score low across the board on emotional intelligence. Physicians are not chosen for medical school or successful in training because of high levels of self and social awareness.

Accountability and holding others accountable. This one is interesting. Physicians often feel they are ultimately accountable to their patients. They do not, however, naturally feel accountable to administration or the organization, as a whole. Similarly, they can be highly successful clinicians without the natural ability to hold team members accountable. Again, a problem as they move into leadership roles.

Adaptability and managing change. This is why so many physicians struggle with the constant change they face today – from new coding requirements, to policies and procedures and care delivery models.

Relationship skills including working collaboratively, conflict management, influencing and positive impact. Finally, as a group, they score lower in personality traits that impact building productive relationships in complex organizations.

Want to learn more?  Check out a whitepaper on the topic:


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Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.