Dr. Joseph Cooper is a practicing board-certified ophthalmologist and a member of the American College of Physician Executives. He has been a member of the medical staff of Marietta (OH) Memorial Hospital for more than 25 years and has held numerous medical staff positions including department chair, credentials chair, and president of the medical staff. He has also served as a hospital board trustee and chaired the board quality council. For the past eight years, Dr. Cooper has consulted with various medical staff on governance, credentialing and peer review. Recently he has also begun working with the Physician Leadership Institute as part of the Center for Transformation & Innovation (CTI). He consults with hospitals and medical staffs across the country in the areas of medical staff organizational functions, governance and bylaws, peer review, credentialing and privileging and leadership training. He is a physician leader who brings more than 25 years of experience in medical staff functions and affairs to his work with physicians, hospitals, and healthcare organizations across the country.
How do you view physician leadership? Can physician leadership be taught?
Definitely. There are some people who are born with it, but most people probably aren’t. Just like any skill, it has to be taught otherwise most people I don’t think would have it.
Have things changed in your day-to-day activities as a result of taking physician leadership from the Physician Leadership Institute?
Definitely. In medical school the problem is that you’re not exposed to any leadership whatsoever.
You’re exposed to clinical activity. You pick up either good or bad habits from the people you get taught by. And a lot of them don’t have leadership skills either. So it’s kind of catch-as-catch-can.
Most people get into a position starting to assume leadership and really have no training, with no insight whatsoever because it’s not something that we’ve been exposed to for all those years.
They don’t have classes or courses about leadership or teamwork. Maybe that world is changing now, maybe some of that is going to occur now. I know medicine is becoming more of a team sport compared to twenty years ago but still I don’t think they get much leadership in their formal training. I know my son just graduated med school, and there certainly wasn’t anything like that for him.
Most doctors aren’t exposed to leadership tools like we were in the Physician Leadership Institute unless they’ve also undergone an MBA or an MMM program. I think for the average doctor these things are very new. The leadership training is very valuable in that once you get exposed to it, it changes the way you approach and work with others. You start using different styles of interaction depending on the type of person you’re dealing with. This is not something we were taught before.
In calm moments, we’re humans. But in emergencies, we do become more technical – trying to make the best decisions to save a patient. All doctors have to learn to balance their emotions and their clinical skills.
In your opinion, who should enroll in these physician leadership programs?
If just the people at the top are the only ones trained, it doesn’t work as well. What you need is a culture of leadership and responsibility. Anybody can benefit from leadership training because everyone is a leader at one point or another. You see the benefit in interactions with others.
Doctors are autonomous animals, we were taught to do things by ourselves, make decisions on the fly all the time, as I said. But to be a team player and look for consensus, that’s sometimes an alien world for even some very good doctors. Of course there are some doctors who may say something like I don’t have the time for this, but sometimes those are the very folks that need this training the most.
What would you tell someone who is skeptical of the idea of physician leadership?
I would tell them that there are benefits beyond simply your job. The benefits extend to your practice, whether it’s a group or individual practice, your day-to-day interactions with everyone you come into contact with. The life skills we learn we also use with our families and friends. It is a transformative process not just for the
organization but for individuals as well.
Did you notice an impact on business performance after the leadership training?
Because ours was a diverse group, I think the biggest changes you would see are in the groups that work together in the same organization or practices. Also, in teams that work together on action projects. Because of the personal coaching, you create specific plans for interactions with specific people. This was very helpful for me personally. I would hope that even my son would take a class like this so he could benefit from it for his future career.