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Ontario Medical Review
January 03, 2023
Abigail Cukier

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of the Ontario Medical Review magazine.

Ontario physician leaders shaping the future of health care

OMA’s Physician Leadership Program with Rotman School of Management is preparing physicians to drive transformation

In this time of significant challenges in Ontario health care, it has never been more important to have physician leaders help shape the future of the system.

The OMA, in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has created the Physician Leadership Program to build leadership skills in 30 participating physicians each year who will test and refine big ideas to drive broad health-system change. The program also strengthens connections between the OMA and its members, while forging relationships with key health-system partners, such as government, hospitals and other health-care sector leaders.   

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“The health-care system needs good leaders, and doctors are so incredibly positioned,” said Dr. Rose Zacharias, OMA president. “We bring the vulnerable story from the bedside of our patients right into legislature, and all the spaces in between, and speak to the patient experience and the patient-doctor relationship.”

The new 10-day program is delivered in four modules, 2.5 days each, spread out over eight months. This year’s program begins March 9 and runs until Nov. 24 when the first cohort will graduate.

Participants are asked to come to the program with an idea for an initiative they believe has the potential to deliver transformational change. That idea provides an anchor for individual course work.

Participants then work to apply what they have learned and develop a plan to address an interpersonal, organizational or system challenge. The end goals are better outcomes, lower costs, improved patient and provider experience and health equity.

The modules cover topics such as the psychology of persuasion and influence, conflict resolution and the art of powerful conversations. Physicians will also learn about funding models, how to negotiate and how to influence system change with government.

Small group coffee chats allow participants to discuss ideas with health-system leaders. And, by working closely with and consulting with their peers, participants help each other develop strategies for their transformation project, drawing on their individual and collective expertise. Through the OMA Physician Leadership Advisory Network, participants will also have the opportunity to connect with advisers who might otherwise be difficult to access, to help them consider and plan for possible leadership roles over the course of their career.

Dr. Zacharias said the OMA hopes some program graduates will contribute their leadership skills to the OMA and its committees, as well as in all aspects of health-care organizations and the broader system.

“We will never have a high-performing health system or high-performing health organizations without strong physician leadership.” — Dr. Brian Golden

“We’re inside a system that has massive cracks. We speak with a uniquely credible voice and equipping us to speak well into these spaces is what this program is all about,” she said. “So, I’m excited about the advocacy that will come out of this program.”

Dr. Brian Golden, the Sandra Rotman Chair in Health Sector Strategy and national director for Rotman’s health-care leadership programs, agrees that physician leadership is vital to effect system change.

“We will never have a high-performing health system or high-performing health organizations without strong physician leadership,” said Dr. Golden, who has a PhD in Organization Behavior and Social Psychology from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “It is rare that systems invest in leadership development and even more rare that they invest in it for physician leaders.

“In this program, we focus not only on the opportunities for physician leaders to develop and have an impact at the system level, and for the OMA if they choose to do that, but importantly also for themselves. Part of the reason we experience burnout is when we don’t feel we have the ability to influence the world around us.”

In addition to gaining the tools to carry system-wide influence, Dr. Golden says graduates will experience a more personal impact. “I have no doubt that graduates will be more effective in their professional practice, and that leads to a better system,” he said.

It is because of these personal and wider impacts that Dr. Zacharias encourages physicians to consider applying to be part of the next cohort of the program, despite busy schedules and numerous commitments.

“I would never want busyness to cause you to miss out on the opportunity of leadership development because you will be stronger and better equipped with your own well-being if you invest in this aspect of yourself,” she said. “Doctors can fill up their plates to overflowing. So, it would take intentional, disciplined effort to say, ‘This is something I am going to do for myself.’ It’s an investment in your leadership and a way to bring even more purpose to your calling.”

Golden said physician leaders typically say they feel positive change and renewed after these investments in leadership development.

“We have worked with many physician leaders and what they have uniformly said to us is that after the program they came back energized and refreshed. It will never look like you’ve got the time, but you create time when you invest in yourself,” he said.

And while participants make this personal investment, they will also be creating the opportunity to help shape the future of medicine, Dr. Zacharias said.

“We’re inside a system that has massive cracks. We speak with a uniquely credible voice and equipping us to speak well into these spaces is what this program is all about. So, I’m excited for the advocacy that will come out of this program.” — Dr. Rose Zacharias

“When we step up as Ontario’s doctors and contribute to a conversation where there are other leaders in the room, government officials, the media and other external health-care stakeholders, (they) lean into what the doctors think,” she said.

“It is extremely powerful to step into a problem that needs to be solved when you say, ‘I’m a doctor and I’m here at the table to contribute to the solution.’”

To find out more, visit the Physician Leadership Program web page.

Abigail Cukier is a Hamilton-based writer.