They see dozens of patients each day, yet the world of a physician can be a lonely and chaotic place. The hectic nature of their schedules and demands of the job often leave little time for personal reflection, peer discussion, or professional development—especially for those who want to take on leadership roles.
“Leadership is a different experience, and you want to have some training in that area,” says Dr. Nabiha Gill, a physician in Indianapolis. “As a physician, your training focuses on your specialty and how to excel at that, but medical school doesn’t train you to be a leader.”
The Indiana State Medical Association wanted to bridge that gap. To do so, they sought out the help of IU Executive Education to create a program that helps Indiana physicians develop leadership skills and improve their own self-awareness.
“We want to help physicians reignite their purpose and find joy in it,” says Janette Helm, ISMA’s director of education and professional development. “We want to provide them with the tools they need so they can experience the highs and the joys of why they went into this profession.”
ISMA and Executive Education sat down to develop the content for the ISMA Physician Leadership Program. Participants receive a certificate from the two organizations at the end, recognizing their completion of the program.
“We’ve provided training and education for healthcare managers for more than 30 years, but we wanted to ensure this program was specifically for physicians,” says Sara Johnson, director of IU Executive Education at the O’Neill School. “Using our Healthcare Innovation Leadership Institute as a model, we worked with ISMA to craft a program that provides physicians with easily accessible leadership development.”
Helm, who is also a faculty member for Executive Education, points out that having that existing model gave them a jumpstart on creating a new framework.
“Executive Education provided new information and revised it for our audience,” she says. “They took their foundation and applied real-life scenarios that were relevant.”
Through a combination of in-person and online courses, the three-month program covers five areas:
- Emotional intelligence
- Telling stories behind the data
- Influence and negotiation
- Making executive decisions
- Building resilience
Faculty members who lead the courses come from various health-related organizations and agencies. They develop their lectures to include information with which participants can immediately connect.
“There’s great self-awareness in these courses,” Helm says. “They can take these lessons and use them to better understand the people around them and improve how they communicate.”
Johnson points out those lessons extend beyond patients.
“Physicians are typically good at listening to patients, but leadership listening is different,” she says. “It’s a unique skill that must be learned and practiced. Great leaders listen to different ideas from those around them to help them make better decisions.”
Johnson adds that great leaders also have a self-awareness that comes from emotional intelligence. They know themselves, the impact they have on others, and how to effectively manage that impact.
The leadership learning works in tandem with another program benefit: creating camaraderie.
“It’s very rare that our physicians have this length of time in a room together to focus on building their own skills,” Helm says. “There’s value in talking to someone who also lives this life.”
Dr. Gill says it provides participants a new lens through which they can view old problems.
“When you’re working in a facility, you know that culture,” she says. “In these kinds of programs, you meet other people who are in different systems and at different levels in their careers.”
Having now earned her certificate, Dr. Gill says she would highly recommend the program to any physician—whether they are in a leadership role now or hope to take one on in the future.
Helm says that type of development is one reason ISMA exists.
“We want to help our physicians find personal fulfillment,” Helm adds. “We want them to remember what drew them to medicine in the first place and how to get back to some of that meaning and purpose even amidst the stress.”
ISMA and Executive Education have graduated the first cohort of their leadership program, and the second cohort graduates March 27. Organizers are already thinking about how to reach more physicians.
“There’s definitely an interest on our part to use this as a springboard to go even further with this concept,” Helm says. “IU Executive Education has branched out and been innovative in their thinking. I would encourage anyone interested in providing leadership programs to reach out and have a conversation with them.”