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Using Assessments to Select and Develop Physician Leaders: Notes from the American College of Physician Executives Spring Institute

December 17, 2015


I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Institute of the American College of Physician Executives last week. It was refreshing to spend several days with over 700 physicians who are dedicated to developing their leadership skills. ACPE members recognize that healthcare reform will only be successful if the medical profession takes the lead. A few interesting observations by some of the attendees on healthcare hiring:

  1. Traditional medical training does a disservice to physicians by ignoring leadership and organizational skills. (The ACPE is trying to fill the void.)
  2. Many of the qualities and behavioral competencies emphasized in medical training make it difficult to assume productive, collaborative, leadership roles.
  3. One of the greatest challenges of physicians and healthcare organizations as a whole is adapting to change (Which is, obviously, more important than ever.).
  4. Use of sound executive assessments of physicians could prevent, or help manage, physician disruptive behavior and identify and develop strong leaders.

These comments are supported by an interesting article on the topic by James K. Stoller, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic. (We previously commented on Dr. Stoller’s article, Can Physicians Collaborate?):

From Developing Physician-Leaders: A Call to Action (published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2009 July; 24(7): 876-878:

The many challenges in health care today create a special need for great leadership. However, traditional criteria for physicians’ advancement to leadership positions often regard academic and/or clinical accomplishments rather than the distinctive competencies needed to lead. Furthermore, physicians’ training can handicap their developing leadership skills.


Health-care organizations pose special leadership challenges for several reasons. First, health-care organizations are complex, usually characterized by many professional work forces and silos or “fiefdoms.”810 Second, characteristics of physicians and of their training conspire against their having “reflexes” for collaboration or followership,911 traits that are needed for effective teamwork that leaders must harness for positive organizational change. Third, the demands of training and, in academic settings, of developing academic skills and performance, often compete for physicians’ attention to mastering leadership competencies, thereby potentially handicapping physicians’ leadership skills.

Several of our healthcare clients have recently recognized that leadership training for physicians has its limits. Other industries know that well-designed executive assessment programs can help to identify individuals best suited for leadership positions and can form the basis of an executive development plan. Given the demand on healthcare organizations, and the need for dynamic, skilled leaders, it only makes sense to apply similar tools to develop successful physician executives. 



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.