How the things you weren’t taught in medical school are holding you back in your career.
Just the other day I was on a fishing trip. Passing time on the ride to the ocean we got into a conversation about work and first contracts. Me and the other Medical Professional in the front seat rambled on about all the mistakes we made and tough lessons learned through the failures we’ve made over the years. The engineer in the back seat listened in disbelief! He couldn’t believe it, some of the most educated professionals on the planet making such rookie. “Didn’t we pay attention in class?”, he asked. “Of course, we paid attention! How else did we learn how to diagnose Tropical Spastic Paraparesis?”, we replied. He shot back, “No, not that class. Negotiation class!”
There you have the problem in a nutshell. Physicians spend over a decade learning clinical skills to care for patients, but rarely get a single hour in the Medical and Professional Skills that are needed to succeed and thrive in modern medical practice. Attorneys, Business Administrators and other professionals undergo extensive training in these fields. We as physicians are left at a distinct disadvantage. In many ways, our medical training has failed us and left us shockingly unprepared for actual practice.
What are these skills? Essentially, Medical Professional and Business skills fall into the category of non-clinical expertise that allow you to advance your career. There are based around improving communication, improving your ability to influence others, and the ability to most effectively use and manage the resources and processes that exist in your organization. They are sometimes referred to as “communicative” or “soft” skills. But, make no mistake, they are based on solid evidence-based research and are just as important as your clinical competence in determining your success.
Here is a partial list of the skills that physicians need to master to succeed in their careers
- Public Speaking
- Media Interviewing
- Presentation Skills including PowerPoint
- Contract Review
- Office Politics and Networking
- Social Media Presence for Physicians
- Marketing including “Inbound Marketing”
- Medical Business Strategy including “Blue Ocean” Development
- Conflict Management
If you have ever wondered why some physicians are more successful than others, chances are they have excellent clinical abilities along with strong medical professional and business skills. Possibly they have excellent office political skills and have built a network of colleagues who rely on them for consultation and medical expertise. They may also have negotiated an excellent compensation package and use their business acumen in partnership with the hospital administration to achieve “win-win” solutions, increasing value for all concerned parties. Perhaps they are gifted marketers, leveraging television interviews and social media presence into a thriving practice. The potential uses of these talents is endless. Unfortunately, without these talents, you’re likely to be hampered in achieving your goals and dreams.
Here’s the good news, just like your clinical skills, you can learn professional and business skills with dedication and effort. You’ve memorized the Krebs cycle- you can certainly excel in learning how to negotiate! And, you won’t need to dedicate $150,000 and take 2 years off from practice to earn an MBA to get there. There has been an explosion of internet resources for physicians, including sites that specialize in medical professional and business skills. Taking advantage of in person CME seminars and eLearning will help you learn the skills you need to get ahead.
Ask yourself a few questions to assess your current professional skills needs:
- Am I an anxious interviewer? Do I really know how to present the best version of myself and abilities? Have I suspected I’ve “blown” an interview?
- Do I understand the science and economics of negotiation? Do I understand market value research, BATNA, ZOPA, and Anchor numbers? Do I have trouble getting the deals I feel are fair? Has anyone ever taught me how to negotiate? Have I ever practiced negotiation with an expert?
- Am I always of the losing side of conflicts and office politics? Why do I have so much trouble influencing others even when my ideas are better than theirs? Do I have the feeling the departmental and hospital administration ignore me and my ideas, even when they are based on best evidence or practice?
- Are others at my hospital advancing into administrative or leadership positions while I keep falling behind or get overlooked?
- Why do I have so much trouble attracting patients and consults to my practice?
- I’m happy with the success I’ve achieved, but I don’t really know how to take it to the next level?
- Why do I feel like I’ve lost control of my practice? I’m overworked, underpaid, in constant struggles with my colleagues and can’t seem to get the administration to listen to me. They call it physician burn out, but I need a solution beyond “in-the-moment gratitude” training.
If these questions, or any other questions you may have about your career tract, sound familiar to you are not alone! They plague physicians everywhere and are the direct result of a gap in education and training.
Here’s your plan to develop your professional and business skill set
Review the list of skills above and perform an honest assessment of yourself. Perhaps ask a trusted friend or colleague about their honest opinion. Write down the areas where you don’t believe you have achieved true mastery. If you are like most physicians, you feel barely adequate at interviewing and public speaking. Maybe you can put together a decent PowerPoint presentation, but nothing that “wows” an audience. Unless you went to business school, law school, or have an MBA, the rest of the list with skills like negotiation, contract review, conflict management, etc. will seem like a foreign language- you may know a few words, but you aren’t even close to fluent. In all honestly, the concepts baffle you and make you a bit anxious.
Develop an education plan. For public speaking and PowerPoint skills there are several good eLearning courses. Your institution may even offer classes. Groups like Toastmaster can certainly help. To achieve the other skills, you’ll need to pursue an active learning plan. We recommend an in-person physician dedicated program to start your journey. Find one that is physician specific and offers CME credits. Look for eLearning opportunities to round out your education
Become a devoted life-long professional skills development champion. After obtaining the basic knowledge from attending a seminar, constantly assess your career and outcomes. Adapt and learn as opportunity present themselves. Perhaps you realize you need better marketing skills to grow your practice. Visit physician forums that specialize in medical professional skills and leave a post or contact the site owner for advice. Often, the quality of the responses will be excellent and will guide you towards your goal. Continue this process as you go through your career- reviewing and deepening your knowledge base when you require more advanced skills.
Recognize the tremendous value that these skills offer to yourself, your patients, your practice, your hospital, and the medical community at large.
The pursuit of medical professional skills is simply the best investment you can make in yourself. As you gain this knowledge you will become much more valuable to your practice and the medical community in general. Imagine the value you would bring if you could use your skills to re-negotiate a contract with a third-party payer, interview on television about an imminent public health threat, publicly present to your state legislature about changes in health policy, or help develop an inbound marketing plan to drive new patients into a “blue ocean” business strategy? These are skills that are truly in demand! You are putting in the time and effort, so be certain your CV reflects your expertise. You should participate in CME courses and obtain Graduate Certificates wherever possible. This type of proficiency will make you stand out as a candidate for any administrative or leadership role.
Medical School, residency, and fellowship taught you how to care for patients, but left you under-prepared to care for your medical career. To truly succeed as a physician, you need to development the medical professional and business skills required to thrive in modern medical practice. Learning these skills can be invigorating, enjoyable, profitable, and bring control back to your career. With the right training and education, you can achieve your dreams and focus on those things that really matter to you.