Physician Whiplash

Board support is essential in helping doctors take on and succeed in leadership roles

By Gordon Barnhart

The emerging health care environment requires far more physician leadership than has been needed in the past. But there is a natural barrier to physicians who answer the call to lead, and it is best described as “physician whiplash.” This barrier is one that senior executives and trustees need to be aware of and manage effectively because it has the potential to undermine otherwise well designed physician leadership initiatives.

Physician whiplash is almost inescapable because the preparation and approach that makes for good medicine is, in many ways, 180 degrees from what makes for good leadership. This is not a question of problem individuals, nor is it a right-wrong issue. It is simply a natural challenge facing highly competent people stepping into new roles with different requirements for success.

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