Developing the next generation of medical leaders

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As part of Health Education England (HEE), the NHS Leadership Academy’s philosophy is simple – great leadership development improves leadership behaviours and skills. As well as providing targeted leadership development for every level of leadership responsibility, the Academy aims to facilitate valuable discussions around leadership from guest blogs.

Doctors in training hear a lot about the need for medical leadership, but can’t often detail the available resources that would allow them to develop their leadership skills. David Cox and Tahreema Matin, National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellows from HEE, have designed a ‘Developing medical leadership’ toolkit. Here’s some background about how it might help doctors in training and their supervisors and mentors.

Dr Tahreema N Matin

Despite our national affection for it, we all know the NHS is far from perfect. Like most developed world health systems, it is faced with multiple complex challenges, and there has been much recent conjecture about its long-term sustainability.

Ask most trainees and they will list several changes that they perceive could improve the care they provide. Most of us will talk animatedly about wanting to ‘effect change’. Yet despite the good intentions, this year we have been struck by the number of trainees telling us that they didn’t know what resources could guide their leadership development, or where to find them. But excellent resources do exist, not least through the national and Local Leadership Academies and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM). Leadership frameworks, medical leadership standards, leadership development programmes, self-assessment tools, leadership coaching, mentoring, and talent management can all be accessed by trainees regardless of specialty or training level, and most are free. However, as trainees on the frontline of clinical practice we appreciate that identifying good, up-to-date resources and knowing what is valuable and appropriate to our role can be a time-consuming challenge, which often isn’t helped by educational supervisors being none the wiser. In the midst of other clinical and educational pressures, leadership development appears to have been largely overlooked, and the lack of a simple user-friendly guide to medical leadership development may have been a contributing factor.

We have designed the ‘Developing medical leadership’ toolkit to try and fill this gap. It aims to provide a single, user-friendly, ‘go to’ resource that all doctors in training – and their supervisors and mentors – can access and use to structure and support their development of medical leadership skills. The toolkit aims to demonstrate how trainees can evidence leadership development, and to signpost opportunities for those keen to take up higher leadership roles in their future careers.

Dr David Cox

Despite the challenges, trainees and consultants do regularly display leadership skills. Many examples of excellence in clinical practice and system leadership have originated as a ‘clinically led, management-enabled model’, and an expanding evidence base supports increased clinician engagement in leadership tasks with improved healthcare quality and outcomes. There is still much room for improvement though. Good practice from these models needs to be replicated and adopted through the NHS. Clinical leaders can use their expertise to transform healthcare, but to facilitate this we need to disseminate knowledge and understanding of how medical leadership can be developed, and the supporting resources available. Doctors developing leadership qualities need structures and guidance that further their understanding of how the abilities we possess can benefit patients and our health system.

It appears to be an increasing view, including one held by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, that clinical leadership is no longer an option for doctors in training, it is a responsibility. This has been supported in the design of the GMC’s General Professional Capabilities in which clinical leadership and quality improvement constitute two of the nine domains.

The toolkit isn’t another vehicle for tick-box assessment and appraisal. It doesn’t claim to, or wish to, reinvent the wheel of medical leadership development. The idea is just to make leadership development that bit more accessible, achievable and understandable.

You can download the Developing medical leadership toolkit here.

You can also explore the NHS Leadership Academy’s range of leadership development programmes and resources here.

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