Health System Leadership: Seeking Physician Executives with Business Acumen


By Linda Komnick

As health systems strive to improve outcomes and reduce costs amid the shift toward value-based care, more senior leadership positions are being filled by clinicians-turned-executives. Healthcare organizations are looking for physician leaders who understand the full continuum of care, how to optimize resources, and how to manage risk. Clinician leaders are seen as the catalyst to guide the transformation from volume to value.

Linda Komnick, Witt/Kieffer

Linda Komnick

My colleague Christine Mackey-Ross and I recently shared our insights into the growing presence and influence of clinicians in healthcare leadership and what we look for when recruiting for these strategic leadership positions with Debra Beaulieu of HealthLeaders Media. Our discussion is summarized in “What Recruiters Look for in a Clinician Executive”.

As Christine points out in the conversation, physicians with real portfolios of accountability now number in the thousands, as opposed to the hundreds in the past. Because of the demand, it is not unheard of to come across physicians who went to medical school with the intent of becoming executives, never planning to practice medicine full time.

Christine Mackey-Ross, Witt/Kieffer

Christine Mackey-Ross

In the past, physicians were selected for leadership roles primarily based on their clinical skills rather than on their management expertise. Because today’s clinician leader is right in the thick of strategic decisions, he or she is now expected to have the same business acumen as any other member of the leadership team. To help develop that business sense, many of the clinicians we recruit now have either an MBA or MPH. Having this degree is often enough to tip the scales in favor of one executive candidate over another.

Also important in developing business acumen, of course, is management experience. As more physicians take on leadership positions, their collective expertise will increase. This will be essential for the entire industry as it continues to change.

Linda J. Komnick is a senior partner, Healthcare, and co-leader of Witt/Kieffer’s Physician Integration and Leadership practice. Christine Mackey-Ross is also a senior partner and co-leader of the practice.

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