During Crisis, Physician Leaders May Rediscover Their Sense of Mission

By Sue LeGrand

In my work, I have the opportunity to speak every day with physician leaders who are supporting their organizations in the fight against COVID-19. While many of these executives are understandably stressed and fatigued, I also find that they are feeling a renewed sense of purpose in their work. They are being asked to use all of their skills and training – both from a medical and leadership perspective – to guide their teams and make a difference in patients’ lives. In most cases, they are being acknowledged for their efforts and expertise.

As a physician running a New Jersey COVID-19 Command Center stated, “I am connecting with the feelings that motivated me to become a doctor. I am making a real difference every day and am energized about my role.”

Physicians are finding that their medical training has prepared them well, despite the unprecedented nature of the current crisis. “As a young resident, I sometimes had to make quick decisions with the information at hand,” a CMO for an urban medical center related to me. “Those skills are now indispensable.”

Physician leaders are finding they add value as stress managers. One exhausted clinician I spoke with, upon realizing that only one ventilator among the hospital’s whole supply remained unused, somehow managed to inspire calm within the physicians and staff ranks. He commented, “We got through the night somehow, and our situation has not been that dire since.”

As physician executives always strive to do, they are advocating for front-line physicians and staff. Rounding and being visible, and removing roadblocks, are daily tasks. Another physician leader noted, “I ensure the doctors have essential equipment and technology, like more telemedicine capabilities. We are putting in new codes, policies and procedures at a lightning pace.”

They model behavior. “I see Covid-19 patients on Sundays,” one CMO explained. “I don’t expect my medical staff to do things I am not doing. Daily, I am on the wards and serve as cheerleader. Several weeks in, I see that employees’ and physicians’ fear is subsiding, and is replaced with a sense of pride and accomplishment.”

In volunteer capacities, physicians are having a huge impact in their communities. In a part-time role for the county department of public health, one medical director is now serving as call tactical leader for the COVID-19 response. He is without complaint. “I am happy to be stepping up in a time of real need,” he reflected.

The current pandemic continues to be an extreme challenge for all care providers. However, in my conversations with them, physician leaders express the sentiment that this pandemic is their call to serve.

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