Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 2: Defining Physicians

The delivery of healthcare in the US is terrible right now. Nurses and physicians have been the backbone of healthcare for centuries. Physicians are perfectly placed to be the leaders, not only in the clinical side but also in the delivery and management of healthcare at the executive level. Read on to find out why.

This is the second of a three part series looking at why physicians should be CEOs in healthcare. In Part 1 we looked at what a CEO does and how a CEO fits into an organization, focussing on the main duties of a CEO. Now we move to physicians to learn more about what makes physicians tick.

Here are links to the other posts:

Why We Need More Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 1: Defining the CEO

Why We Need More Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 3: Conclusion

What are Physicians Good At?

This was the toughest of the three posts to write, especially as I am a physician and a surgeon and am sure i am biased. I apologize if it’s obvious but it sets the framework so that we can marry what we know about physicians, and what is required to be a CEO.

If you start with a simple Google, this is what comes up:

Over a billion results but organization, communication, empathy, curiosity, collaboration and persistence come up. It’s interesting that as medical students we become absorbed in the science of medicine yet knowing the body of scientific knowledge does not rank highly. Technical skills didn’t come up either. The list in the figure above is the end of a long road of training and learning but it all starts in high school and college.

Are Physicians Book Smart?

Physicians are usually driven, goal-oriented individuals. The competition to get into medical school is hard. Residency placement is also challenging. Once they graduate different pressures take over which may involve juggling teaching, research and clinical duties or the double duties of practice management and clinical care.

Becoming a physician is hard.

There are a lot of barriers to getting into medical school.

In 2022-2023, the average MCAT for students accepted US medical schools was 511.9.

The average GPA for medical school matriculants in the US in 2021-2022 were as follows:

  • Overall GPA: 3.74
  • BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics, and math) GPA: 3.67
  • Non Science GPA: 3.83

Medicine takes the best of the best. The ones who know how to work hard. The ones who can work under pressure. The ones who can succeed against all odds.

Once students become physicians, they learn how to make decisions with incomplete data sets. How to overcome fatigue, hunger and fear to get things done. They learn to juggle and micromanage appropriately. They learn how to acquire new knowledge and skills on the fly and how to use that knowledge to reassess and regroup.

Physician Traits

Here is another list of ideal physician traits. Again, it morphs from book smarts to people smarts:

What Are the ideal traits for physicians? There are a lot of lists. I like this one:

  1. Communication
  2. Empathetic
  3. Passionate
  4. Forthright
  5. Professional
  6. Respectful
  7. Knowledgeable
  8. Thorough

Being a walking encyclopedia only goes so far. Even the best technical surgeons may suffer if they are not good communicators and good with people.

Let’s kick it up a notch (I am a surgeon after all):

This is from the article:

  1. Great hand-eye coordination
  2. Adapt at a moment’s notice
  3. Stamina
  4. Enjoy working with others
  5. Natural leader
  6. Enjoy learning new things
  7. Enjoy seeing concrete results

It’s not a bad list. I would argue that hand-eye coordination can be learned. Any time you do something a thousand times, you will get good at it. Stamina and adaptation are important. Seeing concrete results is there, good or bad. Most surgeons have an ego (does it develop for self protection or does the field attract those with big egos?) but that’s not all bad.

What Are Physicians Bad at?

I can’t spend the whole blog back patting. Again, found this on Google:

Medical school does a terrible job of teaching us the business of medicine. Most physicians are so overworked that investments beyond their home may be haphazard and poorly planned. There is change occurring. If you have time, take a read of this.

Why Physicians Should Do an MBA

I did my MBA after 30 years of practice. Interestingly, common sense and life experience carried me through it pretty well and despite being the oldest in the class I also graduated at the top. The business knowledge as we step into practice is the Achilles Heel of physicians but the experiences of running private practices, employee management, marketing etc etc can be acquired and formalized through organized postgraduate Master’s level education. It’s happening and it will change medicine:


Surgeons were never physicians. In the European Middle Ages surgeon barbers did all the surgeries, and they covered a range of skills from cutting hair to amputations to teeth pulling:

Physicians managed ailments inside the body, whereas barber-surgeons managed afflictions on the outside, which included lumps, bumps, injuries and amputations.’

Physicians and Surgeons were united in England in the 1800s. To this day, in England and in Australia, physicians graduating medical school earn the title “doctor”, but when a doctor becomes a surgeon, they are referred to as “mister”, a throwback to their barber heritage with the barber’s pole reflecting the blood and bandages of more than just haircuts and shaves:

This sordid and colorful history gives some insight to where surgeons came from and perhaps where they are today.

Monty Python captured the historically bloodthirsty bravado of surgeon barbers pretty well in this sketch:

So we have a list of what may potentially make a good surgeon but let’s look at the attributes of established surgeons. These have been defined as follows:

  • Identifies a complex clinical problem that others have ignored or thought unsolvable
  • Becomes an expert in that field
  • Innovates new insights, treatments or procedures to advance the treatment of the clinical problem
  • Observes closely the outcomes of such treatments and those of others to further improve such innovations
  • Spreads knowledge and expertise to others through publications, presentations and practice guidelines
  • Asks important questions in the field to try to further improve care
  • Trains the next generation of surgeons and scientists

The two lists have some overlap but there are some consistencies.

Surgeons are some of the most driven people in medicine I know. They have to master hand-eye skills which they may not have at the outset, in addition to technical knowledge. They have to deliver care under stress. They learn how to work under extreme stress at all hours of the day. Surgical residencies are still the most sought after and competitive programs.


This was a pretty basic section and again, I apologize if it’s obvious. It’s important to get this out there as we go to part three.

Physicians are often our best and brightest, able to adapt. Good with people. Able to work in ever changing fields. Physicians learn the science of medicine and then learn the art of medicine. They also have a lot of skills and attributes that make them good in business and executive positions. Most physicians would be equally successful if they had chosen fields outside healthcare. Surgeons are physicians on steroids (metaphorically, not literally).

In Part 1 we defined what a CEO is and what a CEO does. In Part 2 we looked at physicians. Now we know a little more about physicians and surgeons. In part 3 we will marry the two concepts:

Why We Need More Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 3: Conclusion

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to like or share. Feel free to leave a comment below.

2 responses to “Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 2: Defining Physicians”

  1. Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 1: Defining the CEO | Better Living- It’s Not Brain Surgery!

    […] Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 2: Defining Physicians […]

  2. Why We Need More Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 3: Because Healthcare is About People | Better Living- It’s Not Brain Surgery!

    […] Why We Need More Physicians as CEOs in Healthcare- Part 2: Defining Physicians […]

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