Physician as Leader: Elective Course for Advanced Medical Students

"Leadership is a process that can be taught and refined over a lifetime. The key to successful leadership is flexibility, humility, and introspection." -Medical student participant in the Physician as Leader elective

Health care delivery and the roles of health professionals are evolving rapidly. There is now a greater need than ever for physicians to function effectively in complex organizations. The Physician as Leader (PAL) course, a month-long Harvard Medical School elective, offers advanced medical students exposure to a portfolio of concepts and skills that will contribute to their professional leadership development. 
Physician as Leader was offered to medical students most recently in March 2019. The course comprised didactic sessions malting use of multiple formats, including business school cases, medical cases, mini-lectures, and class discussion. Sessions encompassed a mix of concepts and skills and were led by a multidisciplinary faculty from HMS as well as invited guests who brought real-world experiences managing health care and industrial organizations. Guest topics and speakers included: crisis management, Eric Goralnick, MD (Brigham and Women's Hospital), leadership in medicine, Stephen Bohan, MD (Brigham and Women's Hospital), design thinking workshop, Paola Abella, MBA (Center for Primary Care). 

The course is under the direction Erin Sullivan, PhD, director of research and curriculum at the Center for Primary Care, together with Meghan Dierks, MD, assistant professor of medicine at HMS, and Stan Finkelstein, MD, director of the HMS MD/MBA Joint Degree Program. 

When asked about their biggest takeaways from the course, medical students responded in a variety of ways. "Leadership can be taught. Leadership is about adapting to change. Leadership is intrinsic," commented one student. Another noted that "leadership is a complex topic with varying definitions according to practitioner. It is also something that can be learned through additional training and focus on one's self, organization, and situation." One student observed that "doctors need to be more aware of leadership skills and attempt to learn them. Leadership takes humility, thoughtfulness, and deliberateness. Lack of preparation and awareness leads to burnout. We need to be honest with ourselves about our priorities, our organizations' priorities, and our values. Finally, I hope this course is showing us all that health care is the way it is because of the many forces at play." 

The Center for Primary Care continues to promote leadership development in the medical school curriculum and to serve as a resource for students hoping to assume leadership roles in the future.

For information on Physician as Leader and the next time the elective is offered, contact Erin Sullivan at