Moving from Clinical to Administrative Positions

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Moving from Clinical to Administrative Positions


​​​A new and rapidly changing health care environment is motivating more physicians to accept administrative and management responsibilities. Physicians may benefit from advanced education that is specifically designed to help them face these new challenges. 

Various master degree programs exist to arm physicians to be successful in administrative roles and help shape the future of tomorrow’s health care industry. Some of these programs are created specifically for physicians choosing to pursue an advanced business degree. 

Physician leaders are uniquely positioned in today's world to help identify business and clinical needs of organizations that have a greater emphasis on clinical quality, clinical outcomes, and health system performance. Physician leaders provide that competitive differential because they have extensive knowledge about the “core business” of caring for human beings. They have learned and lived patient care. It’s natural for physicians to be in key leadership roles​ shaping the decisions around what’s best for patients and the organization as a whole.

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Doctors who have transitioned successfully into administrative positions say the first step is to approach the health system's CEO to talk about opportunities. 

Some physicians may find it worthwhile to receive additional training, such as an MBA, Master in Medical Management (MMM), or other advanced degree. But on-the-job mentorship or training could be sufficient. 

Another option is to pursue formal certification, such as through the Certified Physician Executive (CPE) Program offered through the American Association for Physician Leadership. A Certified Physician Executive is a licensed MD or DO with one year of leadership experience, 150 hours of tested management education or a graduate management degree, and is board certified in a clinical specialty with three years’ experience after residency and fellowship.

Before signing up for a course/program, experts say it is important to think about whether a leadership role would be a good fit. The required skills can be very different from the ones that make a good clinician. Leadership roles require exceptional team and consensus building, while providing clinical care tends to be more independent. People who work in these roles say physicians who are uncomfortable with change or prefer to work autonomously may not find a leadership position a good fit.​

Doctors who have taken on leadership roles say such a move should not be made in response to being burned out by clinical work. The pay may not be greater, the hours may not be fewer, and the stress most likely will not be reduced. 

Characteristics of physicians who successfully move into administrative leadership roles
​Experts say physicians moving into leadership positions at hospitals and large health systems and those who aspire to these kind of roles should be able to:

  • See the big picture beyond the patient at hand.
  • Collaborate with people at all levels of the health system.
  • Appreciate multiple perspectives.
  • Think long term.
  • Convince a significant number of people of the validity of an idea without issuing orders.
  • Be comfortable making some people unhappy.
  • Communicate and listen well.
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