What Can Military Medicine Teach Physician Leaders?

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Aligning With Values & Purpose,Transformational Leadership

This month’s issue of the ACPE’s Physician Executive highlights Military Medicine. The timing is interesting for me because over the past six months I’ve been supporting physician adoption of technology in military health facilities through a Department of Defense contractor, KSJ Associates.

Not having any experience in military medicine, this project has been fascinating on a number of levels:  use of technology of course, but also how do military health clinical teams work together? what is the leadership style of physicians and nurses, what are the strategic initiatives that keep leaders up at night?   How are they doing things differently?

One observation I have made is that in many ways military medicine leadership (physician leadership included) tends to be more formal than in civilian healthcare organizations.  For example:

  • People get to meetings ON TIME all the time  (To be late might be insubordinate in some situations)
  • Meetings tend to be well organized and focused
  • Expectations for formal In-Brief and Out-Brief presentations forces everyone to organize their thoughts

Another observation I’ve made is that physician leaders have access to excellent training resources–and they take advantage of that. Several internal training courses are available on core topics such as basic management, medical management, team development.  Internal specialty training includes disease management and clinical process improvement. Many physician leaders have masters degrees and are active in the ACPE.

During this project I have interviewed physician leaders who are leading strategic initiatives that have their parallel in the civilian world, such as Patient Centered Medical Home. What is certainly common to both military and civilian health is the requirement for physicians to manage change. Even when the executive order comes from the Commander in Chief (e.g. the mandate to use electronic medical records) it’s still an effort to lead physicians (although so far I’m finding that physician resistance is not as big an issue compared to civilian hospital medical staff).

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