Tips for becoming a physician executive

A fatal mistake physicians often make when stepping into a leadership role is to convince themselves that they can become an effective leader just through their proven clinical skills. This will set you up for failure because the skills, training, and traits that make you an excellent clinician may be antithetical to the skills that will make you a respected and successful executive leader. Just as you knew little about clinical care before beginning medical school, acknowledge that you know very little about executive leadership skills and that you need to begin a new kind of “school.”

Some people plunge right into a formal university-based education program to obtain a degree. That degree could be a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), or a Master of Public Health (MPH). It could be a full-time or part-time executive-level program at a university, or it could be an online program. As always, one size does not fit all. Obtaining an MBA, MHA, MPH, or other degree may make sense for some and be absolutely unworkable for others.

Another track is to begin the physician leadership program through the American Association of Physician Leaders (AAPL). This could begin with focused courses on finance, change management, managing organizational performance, marketing, managerial communication, and other topics. After obtaining 125 credit hours, the next step could be the completion of an AAPL-sponsored Master of Medical Management (MMM) degree from an affiliated university in which previous course work can be combined with additional university-level work to obtain the degree. Details are available at

Some may not be convinced that they are ready to make such a deep plunge into education; instead, they may opt for a more circumscribed level of development and training. This might include the introductory menu from the AAPL. Other resources include the Physician Executive Forum of the American College of Healthcare Executives, and the advanced leadership training courses offered by The Greeley Company or the Horty Springer Seminars.

The important takeaway is not so much which program or route is superior, but rather the fundamental necessity of training, education, and development in leadership and executive skills. This might be a bitter pill for some to swallow, as often the physicians attracted to these new roles are highly functioning, greatly respected, and at the top of their clinical game. Starting over at the beginning may be hard to accept—nevertheless, it is what one must do to acquire, practice, and implement the knowledge and skills needed to become a successful physician executive leader.

Source: News and Analysis