The stakes have never been higher and the competition has never been more intense as it relates to healthcare delivery across the country.

Increasing expectations to advance the health of a population and improve value while delivering an exceptional experience have driven significant expansion in both the number and scope of administrative leadership roles held by physicians.. The role of the physician leader continues to be a crucial element to achieving sustained success across strategic domains. As a result, many health systems now have from ten to hundreds of physicians carrying the title and duties of “Medical Director” and/or “Physician Executive.” Several systems now must face the challenge of how to plan for the orderly retirement of or change of status of these physician leaders over the next five to 10 years. New Physician Leader Succession Planning strategies and processes are needed to optimize the impact and continuity of medical directors in all of these various roles and venues:

  • Service Lines
  • Ambulatory Care Clinical
  • Centers of Excellence
  • Medical Group C-Venture Diagnostic Centers
  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers
  • Urgent and Emergency Centers
  • Quality of Care Initiatives
  • Community Health Collaboratives
  • Process Improvement Teams
  • Research and Academic Education Programming

Medical staff, board and administrative leaders will be well served by considering how best to refine and implement this five-step process to anticipate and accomplish medical director continuity plans.

Step 1: Build awareness among the board, executive and medical staff to create a clear understanding of the importance of sound medical director succession plans. The objective of succession planning is to ensure that the organization continues to operate effectively when individuals occupying critical positions depart. Succession planning is a process by which successors are identified for key positions throughout the organization. Succession planning is not simply a “nice to have.” It is a necessary part of any organization's ability to reduce risk, create an effective leadership culture, preserve institutional memories, smooth business continuity and improve staff morale. Development of a medical director succession plan is not difficult, but does require executive leadership and commitment from the executive team, the board, and the medical staff. Guidelines for general leadership continuity can be reviewed here:

Step 2: Assure that job descriptions are up to date and include required qualifications, as well as additional preferred experiences, cultural and emotional maturity meant to facilitate leadership of busy and stressed professionals. This process should also clarify reporting relationship, desired performance targets, and behaviors for current and future medical directors.

Step 3: Develop and keep updated a database profile on each medical director to understand their practice, health, retirement and development plans. To what degree will their time devoted to medical director responsibilities increase or decrease over the coming two tothree years? Develop an “implications map” for each person—and the medical directors as a whole—about when you might anticipate gaps in coverage or changes in the types of coverage you need from these physician leaders. Use this understanding to guide the focus and pace of your continuity and succession planning.

Step 4: Develop and implement an ongoing recruitment process that includes a needs-gap analysis and identification of physicians inside the organization with leadership potential, then engage them in formal and informal professional development opportunities, often called a “Physician Leadership Academy.”

Step 5: Be intentional and celebratory of both the departure and onboarding of each medical director. Health systems too often fail to celebrate and appreciate the services of their medical directors. The more they and others see how their contributions are needed and appreciated, the easier it is to recruit and onboard new medical directors. New medical directors need a formal and upbeat welcome and introduction to their new roles and performance expectations. Mentorships and Dyad Partnership with administrative managers can also help enhance and accelerate the effectiveness of each medical director.  The smoother these departure/onboarding processes go, the better the continuity and stability of the health systems and its many service lines, programs and service delivery teams are.

How prepared is your organization for world class medical directorship succession planning? How might a group of three to five leaders in your organization best review and enhance over the next two months your processes for such succession and continuity?