The Role of Physician Leadership in 21st Century Healthcare Administration Described by Richard L. Paula, MD, CPE
I am the Chief Medical Informatics Officer (CMIO) at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa, Florida. My office engages with technology deployed for patient care—primarily the electronic medical record (EMR), but also hardware devices, biomedical devices such as ventilators and anesthesia machines. It is the responsibility of the CMIO to ensure that clinical workflows are conducive to great patient care, and our mission is to use technology to make it easier to care for patients.
If you had asked me early in my career if I was interested in becoming a full-time healthcare system executive, I would have said you were crazy. I genuinely enjoyed caring for patients, as well as teaching residents and medical students. I transitioned to a physician executive over a period of five years. It was a move borne out of a desire to improve patient flow in our emergency department. I was heavily involved in using data-driven process improvement to care for patients better and faster, which led to a department-specific EMR and then to a hospital-wide EMR.
When I started as CMIO, I attempted to work clinically and fulfill my executive role simultaneously. It did not work. The demands of my administrative role meant I had to work long hours, which then diminished my ability to work clinically. As I worked less clinically, I decided to dedicate my career to being a highly effective physician executive. I pursued professional development as a physician executive and obtained further education and training, just as I did in my path to becoming a board-certified Emergency Physician years earlier.
Why Physician Leadership Is Important
Physicians who transition from clinical care to leadership roles in healthcare administration have the benefit of direct patient care. Life and death decisions bring a great moral weight that you carry with you permanently. Physician executives must make decisions that benefit our patients and caregivers as well as the bottom line of the organization. For instance, when I am working with the chief medical officer, my role is to focus on the technology and assist her with that, but I am always thinking, “Is this going to improve patient care and make patients healthier?” When I talk to medical staff, I explain to them why certain decisions were made and why we are occasionally required compromise.
Once I became committed to my full-time physician executive role, I was determined to demonstrate my dedication to my new career path. This involved extra training and education in hospital finance, negotiation, HR training, accounting, and budgeting. I earned a CPE (certified physician executive) designation and was excited to see that the American Board of Physician Specialties® (ABPS) had developed the American Board of Administrative Medicine (ABAM) to offer board certification to physicians with proven expertise in nonclinical medicine. Board certification with the ABAM is a perfect fit for physicians seeking professional development and validation of their efforts.