A clinical head for leadership

by Dr May Ng

30 July 2018

Why clinicians benefit from developing skills in the business of healthcare management.

My current role is a consultant paediatric endocrinologist and associate medical director of a NHS acute trust. As a clinical manager, my role is demanding, varied and rather broadly defined. Combining the managerial and clinical role is often a challenge in the NHS. There is good evidence that the current NHS healthcare system cannot be led by professional managers alone, but it is important to involve doctors and clinical staff in key leadership roles and shared leadership roles within the organisation. This is essential for delivering good health and quality outcomes. Effective clinical managers are critical to securing sustainable improvements in the quality of patient care, a pressing concern now for NHS provider trusts across the sector in the current climate. 

While clinicians are assuming more influence in the business of healthcare management, certain skills are required to be an effective clinical leader. Prior to starting the HFMA higher diploma course, I had never received any education on how business organisations worked, or gained any understanding about finance management and approaches to costing systems. The HFMA modules have given me an understanding around healthcare finance and business management practices, wider operational skills involved in running large organisations and personal leadership development. The course itself is online with a significant degree of self-learning and weekly participation in live lectures. The diversity of the participants is a highlight and I have learned as much from my course mates as I have from the tutors. I am currently completing my final module of the HFMA Higher Diploma.

In my role as a clinician leader in the organisation, the key challenges I face are:

  • Driving cultural change and providing effective clinical leadership
  • Effectively leading the medical profession and medical management such as dealing with concerns, work conflicts, workforce issues, appraisal and revalidation
  • Delivering high quality patient care, quality assurance and clinical governance
  • Financial challenges and achieving cost improvement programmes

It must be apparent that if real change is to be embedded in NHS organisations and culture, it cannot be achieved by individuals alone. Doctors are increasingly being called upon to provide leadership in the NHS as healthcare is transforming and seeks to adopt more value-based delivery models. Effective leadership in the NHS is a system of collective leaders who can actively embrace change. Leaders must enable widespread coalitions and collaboration and I believe that teams working together with a shared vision is essential in delivering the desired outcomes.

The Department of Health introduced in 2010 changes to the structure and functioning of the NHS with an emphasis and a shift in policy towards involving doctors in new planning and commissioning organisations, and ensuring their continued involvement with hospital management. Clinical managers play an integral part in shaping clinical services and driving improvements in the NHS. As a clinical manager, I continue to see that leadership skills are an ongoing process of learning, adapting and developing skills required within any organisation. The willingness for one to learn is I believe fundamentally important in becoming a truly good leader.

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