September 16, 2015
Our firm has a mounting stack of CVs from primary-care doctors who think they want to become physician executives. That’s good. Medical management is a burgeoning field. Groups, hospitals, and managed-care organizations are hungry for primary-care doctors with executive ability.
There’s just one catch: Most CVs we receive don’t show evidence of that ability. It’s not that they’re improperly written. It’s that their authors haven’t a clue as to what a medical management position involves, and what sort of background is needed to win one.
They’ve been lured by myths about a career as a doctor executive. The most pervasive:
Many primary-care physicians think that moving from the examining room to the executive suite is a quick and easy way to boost income. Not so. For one thing, employers aren’t likely to offer you a medical director’s job right off the bat. You’re more likely to start out in an associate position-at little more, and possibly less, than you’re earning as a practitioner.
Even if you eventually become a full-fledged medical director, your income will rise, but it may not soar. You’ll probably make about the same as a busy FP or internist who’s earning $160,000 a year. And your compensation will come in the form of a salary and bonus, along with standard-but not generous-benefits. The bonus, which averages about 30 percent of overall compensation, will be pegged to performance. Underproduce, and it will shrink.
If you’re new to practice, or still a resident, better table any management ambitions for now. To be a serious candidate, you’ll need 5 to 10 years’ background in primary or specialty practice, including managed-care experience and a track record with capitated patients. If you’re adroit at working under full-professional or full-risk contracts, so much the better.
Similarly, if you’re just starting out and toying with earning an M.B.A., M.P.H., or some equivalent master’s degree to help you move into medical management, don’t get your hopes up. Such advanced education can certainly be useful once you land a job. But it won’t help you win one unless you also have significant clinical and managed-care experience, plus starmednstrable leadership skills.
Some doctors grow bored with seeing patients and look to medical management as a way out. Don’t count on that. While it’s true that many physician executives do the job full time, many others are expected to continue as part-time clinicians to maintain credibility with the doctors they manage.
Afraid not. Negotiating and leadership skills are so vital that employers won’t take your word that you have them. They expect to see proof on your CV. A key elective post-board member with your group or hospital, chairman of an important department or committee, or medical director of your practice-carries the most weight. And even though it’s not an elected position, experience as an assistant medical director will give you some clout.
Also highly convincing is starmednstrated experience on a utilization review committee. Many doctors won’t touch UR work. But while it may not win you any popularity contests, it will hone your “people” skills. Employers want to know that you have the ability to get doctors to change their ways by using diplomatic persuasion rather than threats.
Loathe the thought of searching raw spreadsheet data on physician practice patterns, hospitalizations, and prescribing trends for signs of over- or under-utilization. Better change your thinking. Much of a physician executive’s work involves just that.
To land a medical management job, you must prove that you already know how to obtain, interpret, and present such statistics to doctors. Presentation skills include proficiency in using spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel, to take raw numbers and convert them into charts and graphs that will be meaningful to colleagues.
The most common misconception among doctors who come to us seeking to switch careers is that they won’t have to move. Most physician-executive jobs are with managed-care organizations, and, much like being in the Army, you can expect to be transferred about every three years.
Willingness to accept a succession of new challenges in new locales is essential if you hope to climb the management ladder. If putting down roots is most important to you, if your spouse is reluctant, or if you’ve got teenage kids, you’re not a good candidate.
At this point, you may be wondering: Why would anyone want to become a physician executive. There are several reasons. Some doctors genuinely enjoy full-time management. Others thrive while switching between two hats: manager and clinician. Some look forward to freedom from taking call, or from fretting about malpractice risks.
Still others have wearied of the routine of primary-care practice and seek a change. It’s not that they dislike dealing with patients; they like dealing with physicians more. Doctors, after all, are bright, interesting people. Helping them deliver care efficiently can be a fulfilling career in its own right.
This article was published by Cejka Search and originally appeared in Medical Economics Magazine. Copyright by Medical Economics Company Inc. at Montvale, NJ 07645. All rights reserved.