Reward or punishment?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell, as I have been sent off to an “Executive Leadership” conference this week, where we are spending long hours in a hotel conference room with thick binders full of preprinted materials.
Even after reading all about the meeting on the website, it was not clear how this was going to make me a better leader, a better executive, or have more executive leadership.
But my chairman, my division chief, my section chief, and our program director all thought with my new role as medical director of our practice this would be a good skill set for me to acquire. However, in the back of my mind there’s always this nagging doubt that they must think I’m not really good at this stuff, so off to a remedial course. If there’s any semblance of hope for me, any chance of salvaging my professional career, I desperately need some new skill set.
Turns out nearly everyone else here at the meeting has been secretly thinking the same thing.
In advance of the conference, we received an email with the curriculum, as well as some advanced reading materials and case studies to review. They recommended that we spend at least 20 hours working on it before arriving at the conference, and told us that there would be between 6 and 9 hours of homework each night at the end of the day’s sessions.
There’s strategic planning, full cost accounting, organizational analysis, Six Sigma, Lean, patient flow, essentially an entire business school semester shoved into one week.
The attendees have gathered from all over the country, East coast to West, North and South, and one came all the way from Qatar.
We started out the first morning with the usual intro “get to know you” session, where we went around and introduced ourselves, described our roles in our institutions, and talked about our pets. Lots of dogs, cats, and two folks with frogs.
A lot of smart people, and as the day went on it became very clear that their goal was to pull us all way out of our comfort zones.
None of us are trained to do this stuff. We went to medical school. We are good at diagnosing illnesses, managing diseases, intubating patients, getting them out of the ICU, dializing patients, counseling them.
But analyzing a budget? Driving practice improvement? Redesigning corporate structures? None of this was in our medical school curriculum, or even in our residency training.
Obviously we are all here because in some way we have dabbled in some of this stuff, done some quality assurance or quality improvement, fixed a glaringly broken system, stood firm against someone who told us “because that’s the way we have always done that here”.
It’s a strange thing that happens to us in academic medicine: if you’re good at your job, and you’re willing to serve on a couple of committees, or take on some little initiative, it seems like the people at the top want to take you away more and more from what you do best (take care of patients and teach), and put you in a suit and make you manage budgets.
Now, I’m not complaining about getting in some exotic travel (to far-flung Massachusetts); it’s been about 8 months since I even had more than a day off, and a whole week away from the office seems pretty decadent. Plus being in a hotel room with room service and all the hotel conference food you can eat seems almost like a vacation. Sort of.
At the end of each day, those of us who’ve been sitting through the sessions look around the room at each other, our drooping eyelids, our heavy heads — the air seems to have been sucked out of the room, the temperature incessantly rising. Not enough caffeine in the whole city. This material is pretty dry, and we recognize it’s hard to make it really sexy and totally engaging.
We also know that we’re not going to come away with this as fully trained MBAs, ramped up and ready to tackle budgets and find hidden revenue opportunities, transform our org chart, or fix everything wrong with our practice, division, section, department, hospital, national healthcare system.
But I guess the point is for us to get a sense of this stuff, to further pique our interest, to figure out how it fits into our lives, how it fits into the work we do, how we can become more engaged in these processes that are going on all around us.
In the end, I may not be any better at Excel than when I started, but hopefully going through this will renew the energy we all bring to our work, reengage us all, redirect us, and push us to push the innovation envelope even further.
Fred N. Pelzman, MD, of Weill Cornell Internal Medicine Associates and weekly blogger for MedPage Today, follows what’s going on in the world of primary care medicine. Pelzman’s Picks is a compilation of links to blogs, articles, tweets, journal studies, opinion pieces, and news briefs related to primary care that caught his eye.