Becoming a Physician Leader

Reprinted from St Louis Metropolitan Medicine

cancer treatment st louis moRadiation oncologist Michael G. Beat, MD, has been medical director of Arch Cancer Care for the past seven years. He leads a team of health care professionals specializing in the treatment of prostate cancer. He previously was chief of radiation oncology at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, and was a partner with St. Louis Cancer & Breast Institute.

Besides his practice, Dr. Beat provides leadership through committee service with the US Oncology Network and the ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk. He is a board member of The Empowerment Network, a support organization for men with prostate cancer.

Being able to engage a diverse group of individuals with unique talents and unite them in a fashion that creates a functional team or organization ... motivates me to lead.

He has taken a leadership role with the Medical Society as chair of the ad hoc Innovation Committee dedicated to supporting life science and medical startup companies. He joined the SLMMS Council in 2016.

A member of the 2015 SLMMS Physician Leadership Institute class, he also has received leadership training from the US Oncology Network, through his service as a U.S. Army physician, and during his studies for his MPH and MBA degrees.

What attracts you to leadership, and what do you find fulfilling?

I recognize that my individual efforts at patient care (or any other endeavor) are limited in their effectiveness by sheer time, energy and resources. Being able to engage a diverse group of individuals with unique talents and unite them in a fashion that creates a functional team or organization—one that can produce a superior product or deliver optimal patient care that I would not be able to provide by myself—motivates me to lead.

What did you learn about your leadership style and abilities through the Physician Leadership Institute, and how is that training beneficial to you today?

It is very difficult to influence an individual’s personality, but one can alter their behavior through the right persuasive incentives. In order to accomplish that goal, one must have an ability to adapt their own leadership style to effectively manage many different circumstances and situations. This requires a clear understanding of the strategic goals of an organization. Without that guiding vision, leading change simply reverts to managing chaos and crisis.

In today’s health care environment, why is it more important that physicians possess leadership skills? Do we need more physicians in leadership roles?

Change always has and always will be inevitable. We can often foresee the (health care, technology, regulatory) changes coming, but all too frequently simply react to the new developments instead of proactively preparing for the transition or even engaging and working toward altering the trajectory of those changes. Physician leadership roles—particularly through national and local organized medicine activities like SLMMS—are important conduits to claim some ownership and responsibility in shaping today’s and tomorrow’s health care environment.

What are the key attributes of a good physician leader?

We often get so involved with the acute concerns of our patients and the day-to-day details of their health, that it can be a difficult transition to step back and look at the bigger picture over a longer time frame. One must think strategically about the future and critically analyze the performance of our past. Other key components of physician leadership are collaborative communication, team development, and effective delegation and supervision. The delivery of optimal individual patient or population health today relies on a team effort. Physicians are well suited to direct these tasks and quite accustomed to giving (or writing) orders, but we may need to develop additional skill sets to more effectively function in these leadership roles.

What advice would you offer physicians aspiring to leadership roles?

The Physician Leadership Institute is an excellent opportunity to gain a high-level overview of the many different aspects of physician leadership available without committing to a more expensive and prolonged academic leadership program. This provides a platform from which to tailor further training or refine and formulate entry into another leadership role.

If you don’t like an important aspect of our health care profession or are concerned about the direction medicine is moving, get involved at another leadership level and work to lead the change. If we as physician leaders do not participate in the process, someone else will make the decisions for us.