In most hospitals, the medical staff organization is supported by one or more medical staff professionals (MSPs). These individuals may be called by different titles, but their key responsibilities relate to supporting the work of the hospital and medical staff organization related to credentialing and privileging and medical staff governance. Although MSPs interact at some point with most of the members of the medical staff organization, individuals granted clinical privileges and many individuals who work for the organization, key relationships are with elected and appointed medical staff leaders. Since medical staff leaders are subject to periodic change (particularly in organizations where leaders are elected – which is still how many medical staff leaders find themselves in a leadership position), MSPs must learn to work with a wide variety of personalities, as well as with leaders who may or may not be prepared for their new position. MSPs want all medical staff leaders to be successful – because the success of medical staff leadership contributes to their success and to the overall success of the entire healthcare organization. MSPs usually are quite passionate about the impact that the work of the medical staff organization has upon patient safety – they want to contribute to the success of medical staff leaders.
What do MSPs have to say about what it takes to be a successful leader from their perspective? Here is advice to medical staff leaders that I have gathered during my 35+ years of work with healthcare organizations and from many dedicated MSPs:
Understand your responsibilities
Many medical staff leaders attend various conferences to learn about their roles and responsibilities and how to be successful as a medical staff leader. Education about roles and responsibilities is critical – whether it means attending a seminar, having an internal orientation program, or reading material targeted towards medical staff leaders. All of these activities can help a medical staff leader avoid being a mediocre or poor leader.
It is very sad when a Medical Staff President says that his/her goal for the year is to just get through the term of office without having a hearing or any “black marks” from the Joint Commission or from CMS. I have worked with medical staff organizations where the legacy of the leaders is substantial - design and implementation of a robust standardized criteria-based privileging system, for example. Do something that you know will move the organization into the future and that you can look back on with pride.
Take action when necessary
Hoping that a problem (such as a disruptive physician, a lack of performance data to be used for evaluation of competency of physicians, etc.) will just go away or will be solved without any intervention doesn’t work. These problems never just disappear. At some point, someone will have to deal with the problem. If not dealt with now, the problem will just get bigger. Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with unresolved issues during your tenure – and won’t leave unresolved issues for future leaders.
Lead by example
As a medical staff leader, you need to complete your records on time, adhere to medical staff and hospital policies and procedures, etc., in order to be a credible leader. Modeling appropriate behaviors is essential if you want to be taken seriously.
Develop a great working relationship with the MSPs
Schedule a standing weekly meeting with the director of the medical staff office. This should be rather obvious as most staff in the medical staff office want to provide support and services to make doing your job more manageable. Meet them halfway and they will almost always do what it takes to help make your term of office a success.
Stand firm on issues that are critical to patient care/safety
Members of the medical staff organization, the board, hospital administration and patients depend upon medical staff leaders to take a stand on issues that promote patient care and patient safety. Don’t back down on issues that are vitally important to excellent patient care. I wonder how many medical staff leaders who were involved in the “Dr. Death” situation in Texas look back and wish that they had taken a different course of action.
Stay out of the weeds.
Don’t rewrite the bylaws, redesign an application, revise privilege forms, etc. These are potential projects that need to be addressed; however, your job is to make sure that the project gets initiated and is well-supported by the appropriate resources. It isn’t your job to do everything yourself.
Manage effective meetings.
Run an efficient and effective medical executive committee (or other committee(s) that you may chair). If you are the President/Chief of Staff, the MEC is typically attended by a large number of individuals, including representation from the medical staff organization as well as executive management. Outcomes of MEC meetings are critical to the functioning of the entire organization and ultimately, to patient care. Your management of this meeting is extremely visible and says a lot about your leadership abilities. Ask for help if you need training on effective meeting leadership.
Be open to new ideas
There are many changes occurring in medical staff organizations across the country. You’ll hear about them if you attend some conferences. Virtual meetings, restructuring the credentialing decision-making process, re-tooling the medical staff committee structure, etc., are things that you will hear about. The medical staff office may be in the process of making the credentialing and privileging process electronic. Don’t stand in the way of progress that will be beneficial to the hospital and medical staff organization. Just make sure that initiatives are well-thought out, resourced, and achievable. Don’t allow the medical staff organization to take on too many projects at once. Taking on too many projects will ultimately impact the success of some of them. Choose carefully.
Make this a growth experience for you
Based upon your experience during your term as a medical staff leader, you may decide that you’d like to take on other leadership roles, including some type of administrative position. Almost all of the physician consultants that I’ve worked with over the years started as a medical staff leader. There are a lot of possibilities. The point here is to benefit from your experience as a medical staff leader by using the knowledge that you gained to propel you to your next professional goal.