Does Physician Leadership Training Work? Five Recommendations.

We need effective physician leaders. Most physicians, however, assume leadership roles with no formal training.  Many of the skills that contribute to success as a clinician are invaluable as a leader, but this method of placing physician leaders leaves some gaps.

More organizations are committing resources to formally developing physician leaders, but these programs cost money, and require a time commitment by busy physicians. Are they worth the investment?

Measuring Leadership Training Effectiveness

Evaluating leadership training effectiveness is complex. It depends, to a large degree, on the quality of the training, itself.  Does the training cover the right content?  Is the training methodology effective?  And, of course, how do you measure success? 

Depending on your goals, there are a few measures that could be useful:

  1. Career advancement: Ideally, participants in a program are better positioned to succeed and advance through the organization.  Accordingly, some programs will track internal promotions of participants.
  2. Supervisor performance ratings:  As this is the primary performance evaluation methodology of most organizations, it’s a good starting point.  Few organizations, though, have a thorough, psychologically safe, meaningful, physician leader evaluation process.
  3. Self-ratings: Pre- and post self-ratings of knowledge and skills are a rather direct measure of participant perception.  This is the methodology used in our recent project.
  4. Organization/Department/Division Performance: One school of thought holds that, especially for senior leadership roles, effective leadership manifests itself in moving the metrics that matter.  As an example, we are working on year-long physician leadership program for a large physician group.  The group has agreed that if they are effective as leaders, they will see key metrics – employee engagement and retention, patient satisfaction, physician engagement and satisfaction, quality and process metrics and financial performance – move in the right direction.  These will be a key measure of success.

Is Physician Leadership Different?

This question comes up frequently.  Our response is always that the leadership skills and competencies are, for the most part,  the same as in any organization.  What differs is the context in which these skills are deployed by physicians, and how we prioritize them.  The more important questions are: What challenges does the organization face?  What skills are most important for physician leaders in facing those challenges?

It is important, though, in our experience to tailor leadership training to the unique challenges and situations faced by physician leaders.  

It is important, though, in our experience to tailor leadership training to the unique challenges and situations faced by physician leaders.  Rather than providing more generic training on, for instance, “change management” and then asking physicians to do the work to apply the concepts to their specific situations – build the change management content around the specific change efforts they are leading. 


If you’ve identified the need to develop and support physician leaders – a few things to consider:

  1. Identify the specific challenges facing your organization. Focus your limited training time and resources on topics that will impact those issues.
  2. Let participants drive some of the decisions about content and how you’ll measure success – so they feel ownership of the process and the solutions.
  3. Rather than thinking of each workshop/training as completely distinct, try to create continuity so participants can remain focused on specific organizational challenges.
  4. Ensure that training is concise, impactful and engaging.  Wherever possible – make it interactive.  Physicians, not surprisingly, don’t have a lot of patience for lectures or training that is any longer than it needs to be.
  5. Buy-in is critical.  Any physician leadership development endeavor needs to be seen by physicians as necessary to move metrics they care about and that are valuable – not just to the organization but to them, individually.

To learn more about our approach to physician success, visit our website at