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Three Personality Traits of Disruptive Physicians

December 17, 2015


Every hospital is on a physician recruiting binge, hoping to build a network of providers, employed or independent to create an integrated delivery network. Too often though, all of the energy and money is devoted to recruiting and purchasing practices with nothing left to ensure physician retention, performance or career satisfaction. What you end up with are under-performing, often disgruntled physicians – the perfect recipe for disruptive behavior.frustrated doctor 78741756

A 2012 article in the journal of the American College of Physician Executives, examines the personality traits of disruptive physicians. (See: Personality Traits of Disruptive Physicians, Hicks and McCracken, Physician Executive, September/October, 2012, Vol. 38, Issue 5)

I would encourage you to read the entire article, but here are three of the most interesting personality traits:

  • The physicians in question had “difficulty getting along with colleagues and adapting to practice group norms.”
  • Many disruptive physicians with disruptive personalities exhibit low levels of sociability and personal trust. Accordingly, a “collegial environment that requires group participation . . . will often lead to disruptive behavior due to stress of social requirements that run counter to their basic nature.
  • These physicians also frequently exhibit low levels of emotional self-control. These individuals often “exhibit aggressiveness in initiating action to get what they want.”

There is no shortage of articles or conferences on managing physician disruptive behavior but what are we doing to PREVENT it? The personality traits cited by the authors are likely evident in physicians who don’t display these behaviors, but when there’s little effort to understand and align expectations, or understand an individual’s behavioral tendencies BEFORE a problem arises – these traits manifest themselves as disruptive behavior.

In other settings, it is understood that functional (rather than clinical or technical) behaviors are the best predictors of performance. Yet, the physician hiring or development process ignores them. We hire for CV and hope that the physician has the behavioral make-up to thrive. Given all we are trying to accomplish in healthcare these days – does this many ANY sense?

Of course, the medical culture is unique. Of course, there is a physician shortage. This makes it even more important to pay attention to functional competencies during recruiting, on-boarding, and development. Define the competencies that predict success – Collaboration? Communication? Adaptability? A focus on the patient? Figure out how to examine these competencies. Look, for instance, to the interviewing techniques used by leading companies to better understand candidates for executive positions.




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.