This is the first installment in a blog series on business and leadership development for clinical occupational health professionals.

In my role as an occupational health consultant, I have collaborated with many clinicians within the healthcare and occupational health space over the last thirteen years. I recently spoke with an occupational medicine physician employed within a hospital system in North Carolina. Our conversation was focused on how her job role has expanded to include many new competency requirements outside of the clinical setting. She stated, “There are so many more business-related responsibilities as well as a larger focus on mentoring and leading teams. I’m now more engaged with our short and long-term planning, developing metrics, as well as quality initiatives for the department. This year, I will be required to attend some leadership and soft skills seminars along with some fundamental business side training. I get the clinical side, but not all this other stuff.”

The Transition to the Business Side of Medicine
Some clinical occupational health professionals are prepared for this integrated role while others are not. Those unprepared must quickly acclimate and learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Today and in the future, both hospital and corporate executives are requiring the occupational health clinical leader bring an integrated competency model to their respected roles. Combined with delivering strong clinical outcomes, many are exchanging their white coat for a business suit. The complexity of the US Healthcare System is driving this requirement. The fiscal forces to reduce costs while enhancing quality are increasing across US healthcare and occupational health programs. In addition, Occupational health leaders must quantify their program value to the executive group. Many occupational health programs are viewed as a cost driver versus a value driver. Executives and financial stakeholders are asking, “How does occupational health contribute to the direct and indirect financial performance of our organization?” Clinical and operational leaders must bring an aptitude of budget management, metrics development and strategic thinking to quantify and communicate its value. Most importantly, obtain a seat at the table with executive management.

The Gap
Oftentimes, occupational health clinical professionals are thrust into leadership and business roles and are challenged to effectively manage multidisciplinary activities. This can be a frustrating experience.

The key question is…will not having these necessary skills slow down my future state career track?

In the past, many occupational medicine, medical and nursing schools lacked the necessary soft skills, leadership and fundamental business courses to generally prepare graduates in their early roles. However, new trends indicate an increasing number of occupational medicine residents and medical students are choosing business and financial courses combined with their medical course load. Today, there are many more medical and MBA programs offering a bundled curricula model. The solutions are out there.

Learning a New Language
Occupational health clinicians must have a clear understanding of their organizational ecosystem at the strategic and business unit level. This demands an understanding of the organization’s vision, strategic direction and culture and an awareness of the political forces. Taking the time to see what’s in front of you will assist in aligning your required competency model.

This is a new language and the transition can be a daunting task for new and experienced clinical professionals.

Potential Areas of Competency Development

Business Technical Skills:

  • Change Management Strategic
  • Strategic Planning
  • Negotiation
  • Financial Management / Analytics
  • Lean / Quality Improvement

Soft Skills:

  • Leadership Skills
  • Listening Skills
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Mentoring, Team Building
  • Effective Communication, Interpersonal Skills

Self-Assessment and Taking Action
Taking the time to inventory your current business and soft skill capabilities through your own self-assessment is a starting point. This intervention should be combined with asking direct questions with colleagues and mentors regarding your competency gaps. In return, with some pain, you should expect some direct and objective feedback on areas for improvement.

Finally, put your learning plan into action by resourcing the professional available development resources. Identify a mentor(s) that can help you along this new journey. Bring your energy and motivation, develop a plan with clear milestones and get started today.

Stay tuned for our next blog installment in this series, “Developing Your Personal Leadership Brand.”