STORIES FROM OUR CCPES
Sandip K. SenGupta, MD
Editor’s note: We asked CCPL members who have qualified as Canadian Certified Physician Leaders to tell us something about their “path” to leadership: what inspired them, how they succeeded, what they’ve learned. We hope their thoughts help you in your similar journey.
I entered the world of physician leadership relatively early in my career, just because it seemed to be the right thing to do in terms of medical professionalism and serving one’s specialty at the macro level. It also seemed like a natural progression of career roles for me, as I had been gaining experience as a hospital laboratory medical director for a few years. Top
Of course it helped tremendously that I had a charismatic and highly effective mentor during my early professional years. Dr. Paul Manley not only showed me how to lead through his own successful interactions with physicians at multiple levels in the labyrinth of hospital academia, but he also greatly influenced my decision to pursue extramural medical leadership opportunities in organized medicine. His passion for performance improvement and customer service remains firmly entrenched in my psyche even today. (I know that I am not the only one who benefited from this outstanding mentorship, as just this past year, Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences bestowed its highest honour on him: the Ron Wigle Mentorship Award.)
I love the interprofessional nature of medical leadership. I especially enjoy collaborating with physicians from outside my own specialty in the extramural domain, perhaps because of the wonderful cross-fertilization of ideas that occurs and the sense of rejuvenation I feel when I come home to tackle common problems in my hospital.
As I completed my terms of office in a number of positions at the provincial and national levels, I came to realize the breadth of opportunity and the diversity of pathways by which physicians can ascend into leadership positions, depending on their interests and passion. For me, it was a burning desire to demonstrate the value that laboratory physicians can create for their health care ecosystem. In thinking back, all that I was really doing was carrying out some of the CanMEDS roles before they became mainstream: professionalism, communication, collaboration, leadership, and health advocacy. Top
Physicians with leadership aspirations should articulate their “burning platform” and identify a “coalition of the willing” to help collectively move their ideas forward. Not everyone needs to lead, but the “silent majority” can usually be carefully nurtured over time to be on one’s side. Although it really can be easier than “herding cats,” be prepared to do a lot of “hand-holding” through any period of intense change in your organization. Expecting your colleagues to learn to “swim at the deep end” with a weight tied to their ankle (i.e., their usual job) won’t work!
These days, my leadership interests have shifted toward a strong desire to work with other leaders to transform our regional health care system, to move away from the patchwork quilt of services that we currently provide toward an integrated, efficient, effective, seamless delivery system that is truly patient-centred and based on principles of performance improvement.
For example, while campaigns such as Choosing Wisely have made their way onto the public stage, in our region, we have only rudimentary systems in place to monitor the appropriateness of diagnostic testing and even less in the way of clinical decision support tools to help physicians make those right choices. Physician leaders who can envision a future state where technologies such as “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, and “neural networks” enable their colleagues to make smarter choices more consistently will be able to make significant progress in health system transformation.
Over the past year, my experience with major transformation of hospital laboratory services and the integration of a small urban community hospital with a medium-sized academic hospital (approximately 100 km away) was, ultimately, very rewarding. We achieved all our objectives, on time and under budget, while receiving kudos from physicians on the front line and administrators in the “C-suite.”
We “simply” said what we would do (in our regional strategic and operating plans) and we did what we said we would do. But there were probably hundreds of (unpaid) hours spent behind the scenes — working with countless health care providers and back-office support staff, at both hospitals, with the help of a professional project support team.
Reminiscing about the hand-holding is perhaps my parting thought. It is so important for physician leaders to appreciate just how vulnerable our colleagues are when faced with major change in their routine practice. It is essential to address all the issues that front-line physicians encounter, no matter how trivial they might seem on the surface. Some of them may turn out to be essential in ensuring patient safety and preventing harm to the patients who we are trying so hard to help. Top
Sandip K. SenGupta, MD, FRCPC, CCPE, is a laboratory physician working in nearly all the community and academic hospitals in southeastern Ontario.