How to Be an Effective Healthcare Leader

The healthcare field is full of opportunities for those who like taking charge and leading teams and organizations. From nurse management to hospital administration to healthcare policymaking, if you have the right qualities and experience, there will definitely be a way for you to make your mark in a leadership role. Here are some tips on how to be the best healthcare leader you can be.

1. Get plenty of experience in the lower ranks

The first and possibly the most important thing you can do to become an effective leader in healthcare is to spend several years working on the frontlines of delivering care, in roles such as health support worker, registered nurse, or junior doctor. Not only is it possible to rise through the ranks from even the lowest position on the organizational hierarchy to the highest, but this is arguably the best way of becoming a manager. One of the most common complaints that healthcare employees have against the highest tiers of organizational leadership is that those at the top are out of touch with what it’s like to be doing the day-to-day jobs of nurses, doctors, midwives, and other patient-facing medical professionals. To be an effective healthcare leader, therefore, you need to learn the ins and outs of frontline care delivery and keep in touch with its development even after you become a manager.

2. Gain the appropriate education

As well as plenty of experience, most healthcare management roles require you to have a relevant graduate degree. These days, there are plenty of graduate programs that are all about healthcare leadership, such as nursing leadership courses, hospital administration courses and MHAs. Thinking about which aspect of healthcare leadership you are interested in pursuing and choosing the most relevant degree will pay dividends, not only in terms of your chances of securing your dream job, but also when it comes to actually doing the job in question. Graduate degrees are supposed to be much more specialized than bachelor’s degrees, so make sure that the program you are choosing isn’t one of those catch-all courses that try to appeal to as many prospective students as possible but end up delivering a watered-down education—that would be a huge waste of your time, money, and energy.

3. Keep up with advances in medical technology and practice

As mentioned earlier, a good leader is in touch with the lower ranks of the organization and knows what it’s like to work on the frontlines of care delivery. At the same time, however, the job of a leader is to keep the organization moving forward and to ensure that best practices are being implemented at all times in all parts of the healthcare setting. Subscribing to the Journal of Healthcare Management and attending events and CPD courses organized by the American College of Healthcare Executives are two of the ways in which you can gain up-to-date knowledge about best practices in healthcare management and clinical care delivery.

Another thing to keep in mind is that medical technology is advancing very rapidly. In the past few years, medical scientists and surgeons have been able to 3D-print prosthetic body parts, perform delicate surgical operations using a ‘cyberknife,’ and even begin to grow human organs in the lab using stem cells. A good healthcare leader will be aware of these advancements, so that as soon as a new technological instrument is approved for medical use, it can be brought into the healthcare setting to improve patient outcomes.

4. Listen to your employees and patients

All managers, no matter which industry they work in, should make time on a regular basis to listen to their employees’ suggestions and complaints. While you may feel that some of your employees are just trying to be a nuisance and make your life more difficult, the reality is that if your employees are complaining about something, it’s probably an issue that needs resolving. Make sure you encourage your employees to also give you positive feedback about what is working in the organization and create a system whereby employees at all levels of the hierarchy can submit improvement ideas for managers to consider. Often, new recruits and those who work at the bottom of the pyramid have a unique ability to spot areas for improvement that may have escaped everyone else’s notice!

Managers in the field of healthcare also need to listen to patients’ feedback. Ultimately, the healthcare institution you work for exists to improve patients’ health and wellbeing, so it makes sense to take patients’ views into account when creating organizational policies. More than that, however, high levels of patient engagement and education have been found to have a positive impact on clinical outcomes, such as reducing medication prescribing errors. Again, ask your patients for positive as well as negative feedback—you can do this through anonymous questionnaires or by creating a forum where patient representatives can meet with management to discuss what is and isn’t working within the organization.

5. Mentor future leaders

One of the most powerful images created by third-wave feminists is the idea of people who ‘pull the ladder up behind them’. Originally, this phrase was used to describe women who make it to the top of the organizational or political hierarchy and then don’t make it any easier—or even make it harder—for other women to rise to similar positions. Today, this phrase is used beyond the feminist discourse to describe anybody who obtains what they want and doesn’t make an effort to help others achieve the same thing.

Good leaders will do the opposite of this, which means actively creating opportunities for new leaders to emerge. You could do this by identifying employees who display potential and aptitude for healthcare management and offering to mentor them or letting them shadow you. You could also reach out to your local medical school and offer to meet with any students who would like to know more about what it’s like to work in your role—you can ask the lecturers to recommend their top students if you are worried about overcommitting.

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