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Clinicians in Leadership: Reducing Physician Burnout, Improving Patient Experience

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By: Yale D. Podnos, MD, MPH, FACS
Chief Medical Officer

The practice of medicine is more difficult now than at any other time in history.  The pandemic notwithstanding, there are increasing demands on clinicians from patients, payors, administrations, and ever-expanding knowledge requirements. With our healthcare system evolving towards an employed model, there is an opportunity to refocus attention on provider recognition, work-life balance, and mental and physical health needs to address physician burnout. Just as important, however, is elevating physician voices into the C-suite to better represent the needs of both patients and clinician peers.  

As a profession, we physicians are relatively new to being employed, having until recently been mostly self-employed private practitioners.  Undoubtedly, there are pros and cons to this new paradigm, but one thing that is undeniable is the relinquishing of control to non-physicians with no training in the care of others.  Though we’ve always understood medicine is a business, the loss of control to non-physicians and large corporations fostered uncertainty and a lack of trust between caregivers and non-physician leadership.  Do non-clinicians truly understand the needs of patients and their caregivers?   

This underscores the need for clinicians to be educated in business and management and assume leadership roles in these entities.  Healthcare organizations realize this and are recruiting more clinicians to leadership positions.  They know that hospitals and care facilities run by physicians outperform those run by non-clinical managers. And over the last few years, global executive search firms like WittKieffer have seen an estimated 20 percent increase in hospitals and health systems wanting physicians included as candidates in their CEO searches. 

Most people have empathy towards those in need or going through difficult times in their lives.  However, most clinicians see this firsthand on a daily basis. The experience of taking care of others on a daily basis affects how we view healthcare and our patients’ role within it.  Our real life experiences inform critical decisions about healthcare trends and where a patient population or healthcare organization may be most vulnerable.  Our roles in leadership are strengthened with this experience and perspective.  This perspective also serves as a common bond with our staff, who, similarly, dedicated their careers to patient care and have a similar patient-centered outlook. 

Clinician executives serve as the conscience of the C-suite.  Their first questions on most matters is whether the issue at hand affects patient care, helping ensure that organizations elevate the care provided while continuously improving patient outcomes.  As more clinicians become executives, a better balance between the practice of medicine and the business of medicine will be achieved. With that, both patients and clinicians will benefit. 

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About Yale Podnos, MD, MPH, FACS

A native of Southern California, Yale D. Podnos, MD, MPH, FACS, attended New York University, graduating with a degree in biology. He attended graduate school at the Harvard School of Public Health and medical school at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, where he also completed his residency in general surgery.

After his residency, he completed a fellowship in surgical oncology at the City of Hope. After training, Dr. Podnos joined the faculty at Duke University and later became the Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Director of Surgical Oncology at UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, NC.

In practice, his specialties are surgical care of patients with pancreatic, hepatobiliary, melanoma, and esophagus cancers. He has authored over 60 scientific publications.

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