When it comes to running a successful dermatology practice, one of the most frequent challenges we hear dermatologists cite is finding ways to adapt and thrive in our current healthcare climate. Once upon a time, a medical practitioner could perhaps practice quietly until retirement without many changes in their practice, but those days are seemingly gone. Instead, medical practitioners—including dermatology practices—are expected to adapt and change with the needs of their patients, and that can be a difficult line to navigate for many dermatologists. After all, your medical school classes likely focused more on technical know-how than on patient interaction to Create the Optimal Patient Experience and leadership development—the skills you likely need most to keep your dermatology practice malleable in a changing economic and health care climate.
The value of formalized leadership training in growing your dermatology practice
Let’s focus on the leadership piece today. After all, even when most dermatologists are able to see the importance of patient interaction and care, they may tend to neglect the business management and leadership development pieces of running their own dermatology practice; a study of Penn State dermatology graduates, for instance, found that while program directors and program participants agree that leadership training could be taught through observation and training (91% and 78%, respectively)—and 66% of those respondents agreed that formalized leadership curriculum would help them become better supervisors and caregivers—only 13% actually reported having any formalized leadership curriculum in their training.
Dr. Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga of Apex Dermatology in northeast Ohio presents a great case study in the value of leadership training. Though his practice was doing well in 2013, with three locations, he realized that he needed to do more to help his practice realize its full potential and reached out to the telos institute, an organizational consulting firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. As telos institute CEO Rick Simmons notes, “In the midst of complete and total industry disruption, holding on to the status quo is rarely effective.” By utilizing telos institute in creating leadership programming in each of his practices, Dr. Garcia Zuazaga was able to push his practice forward, and growth has come as a result; Apex Dermatology has grown from three locations to seven and now employees 15 providers and more than 100 employees. As Garcia-Zuazaga noted in an interview with The Dermatologist, “By the time you get to be a dermatologist, you’re a pretty smart person. But you might not necessarily know how to lead people. Many doctors have never led a group, never had to hire or fire anyone, never had to coach anyone for improvement.”
Strategies for personal leadership development
Of course, it’s easy to say that leadership development is valuable in improving your dermatology practice. It can be harder to know what strategies to take in developing your own leadership skills, or what those strategies look like in practice. Let’s look at seven key strategies you can take in developing your own leadership skills in your dermatology practice:
- Recognize that you are part of a team. Even if it may be your name on the door, your practice does not work smoothly or offer an optimal patient experience if everyone isn’t on the same page. Embracing teamwork as a central part of your organizational philosophy helps ensure that everyone remains motivated, actively involved, and happy with their work—and that in turn helps drive the patient experience.
- Use your mission and vision statements regularly in reinforcing your core values. One way you can demonstrate that you really value your team is to include them in regular reviews of your mission and vision statements as part of a staff-wide accountability check. By holding yourself to a high standard, you can also help your team hold themselves to the same high standard. And studies show that mission and vision statements that are used as part of the daily business practice result in team members who see their work as more than just a job. Instead, they see the inherent value in what they’re doing as transformational work.
- Embrace transparency as a part of teamwork. For instance, many organizations find that using a 360-degree evaluation model (where employee feedback comes not just from direct managers but from subordinates and peers) can help team members own both their strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, can help fuel shared expectations and goals, both in terms of objective metrics (such as the number of patients seen per day) and subjective ones (the quality of care each patient receives).
- Create opportunities for team members (especially care providers and upper management) to seek further professional development and leadership training. After all, anyone can be a leader—especially in an organization that practices transparency and a shared common vision of what they want to achieve courtesy regular reviews of their mission and vision statements. While it may be true that not everyone is a natural leader, embracing leadership development in your practice helps coach up those team members who may need more help.
- Focus both on hard skills and soft skills. If you are running your own dermatology practice, you likely already have quite a few hard skills (medical and technical knowledge, for instance) and soft skills (such as leadership and communication skills). Where some dermatology practice owners might struggle? Finding the right balance of medical skills, business skills, communication skills, and personal skills such as coaching up team members. This is somewhere where leaning on team members you trust to help hold you accountable can pay huge dividends.
- Use team-building exercises to help integrate skill development. The best part of good team-building exercises is how they can incorporate both hard skills (think of logic puzzles such as an escape room, for instance) and soft skills (the communication skills necessary to work with the team effectively, for instance). While team-building skills are often more effective if they are voluntary, keep in mind that if you have set the right tone with your mission and vision statements and your organizational culture, it’s likely that most of your team will want to participate. And even roundtable training sessions can function as team-building exercises if carefully moderated.
- Be willing to think outside the box. While you may get great ideas for leadership development from other dermatologists, you may miss other opportunities to help yourself and your team develop your skills if your focus is too narrow. Leaders in other fields can often offer insights into your own business practice if you’re willing to let them, so don’t be afraid to take a broader view.
Ways to ensure your leadership program succeeds
If you’re embracing the strategies above in embracing leadership development in your own dermatology practice, consider the following few pointers to help ensure your leadership program has the best chance for success:
- Utilize your own passion. If your heart isn’t really in what you’re doing, your team will likely be able to tell, which is why it’s all the more important that you follow your heart and your passion in developing your leadership program for your dermatology practice. Follow what excites you and that excitement will rub off on other team members as well.
- Get professional help. While organizational consultants and leadership professionals can be expensive, they also tend to have a wealth of experience working with organizations and teams like your own. Using a professional to help jumpstart your own program can help ensure you get off on the right foot.
- Utilize staff buy-in. If you can identify a handful of individuals on your team who are likewise passionate about professional development, their buy-in can help the rest of the team see the importance of leadership training—which in turn can help ensure your leadership program’s success.
- Understand that not everyone will want to participate. Not everyone is interested in professional development, and you’ll need to navigate that carefully in your own practice. Forcing team members to undergo training can damage organizational morale, and if team members choose to go through leadership training willingly they’re far more likely to gain from that training. As a result, you may need to tread carefully with some team members and understand that getting a large enough percentage of team members on board will change the organizational culture for the better on their own.
- Understand that professional development and leadership training is always a work in progress, just as we are each an experiment of one. What works for someone else in their dermatology practice may not be what works best for you, and vice-versa. As long as you’re willing to listen to your team members and adapt accordingly, you’re on the right track.