Forum Focus – The FMA Physician Leadership Academy

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By Dan Paloski, Communications Specialist, AHA’s Physician Leadership Forum

There’s no denying the health care environment is changing. Reform is not only pushing hospitals and health systems to change, but physicians as well. To be leaders in this changed environment, physicians will need to expand their knowledge base to further develop competencies in leadership, management, communication, and public policy. Recognizing this need, the Florida Medical Association (FMA) created its Physician Leadership Academy. The FMA Physician Leadership Academy seeks to enhance the leadership skills of physicians by training them to excel in the business world, organized medicine, medical staffs, group practices, and in the public policy arena.

In 2010, the FMA began working with the Leadership Development Institute at the University of Florida to develop a program. Around the same time, the Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance the work of practicing physicians and help facilitate health care delivery, was interested in funding a state-based project. The FMA Foundation, led by its president Karl M. Altenburger, MD, applied for and was awarded a Physicians Foundation grant to partially fund this project, with the FMA Foundation providing the remaining funding.

Each year, the Physician Leadership Academy seeks to train 12 people over a one-year period. According to Dr. Altenburger, 10 to 11 are physicians, with the last spot usually, but not always, reserved for a physician’s spouse. Dr. Altenburger said this is because spouses are able to sympathize with the challenges faced physicians.

“Most people don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices that physicians make,” Dr. Altenburger said.

The Physician Leadership Academy is open to Florida physician members of the FMA.. Dr. Altenburger said they’re focusing on physicians 45 and younger as well as considering  gender, race, and geographic diversity.

Physician Leadership Academy participants meet five times per year. The meetings are usually aligned with FMA board meetings, but not always, and are conducted by faculty from the University of Florida Leadership Institute. According to Dr. Altenburger, topics include the challenges of health care reform, how to lead and drive change, and how to build this new culture without discarding past work that has helped medicine achieve the heights it has attained. Participants are continually surveyed throughout the year with the feedback informing changes in the program. At the end of the year, the participants are formally recognized with a graduation ceremony at the FMA Annual Meeting.

Currently, the Physician Leadership Academy is on its fourth class of participants, with more than 30 physician graduates. Dr. Altenburger said results have been nothing but positive.

“In the feedback we’ve received, they’ve reported to us gaining confidence in their own leadership and judgment, developing better management and presentation skills, understanding what it takes to be a leader, and how to listen, learn, and communicate more effectively,” said Dr. Altenburger.

One major benefit is that participants are able to develop a relationship with colleagues they’ll be working or collaborating with throughout their careers. They’ll see each other at future meetings and be more apt to tackle projects together.

Dr. Altenburger said that so far, the Physician Leadership Academy’s biggest challenge has been accommodating everyone interested in participating. Dr. Altenburger notes the Physician Leadership Academy could double the program tomorrow if they had the resources to do it. Their challenge going forward, he said, is trying to figure out how they can expand the program to reach a greater number of physicians.

As for the future, Dr. Altenburger said they’ll continue efforts to involve graduates into the culture of the FMA, including having them serve on councils, committees, and task forces, as well as incorporating them into the specialty societies, hospital staff, and large physicians groups. These various entities are going to require people who have the skills to help manage the organization and to be involved in the legislative arena and policy affairs. Dr. Altenburger believes the Physician Leadership Academy will help prepare physicians to take on leadership roles in the health care field.

“For a lot of us older guys nearing the end of our professional lives, we try to do the best we can, but the future belongs to this cohort and they take it very seriously,” Dr. Altenburger said. 

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Karl M. Altenburger, MD, is past president of the Florida Medical Association. To learn more about the FMA Physician Leadership Academy, contact Shari Hickey at shickey@flmedical.org.