AHA’s Physician Leadership Experience last April in Atlanta was the first time in more than five years that Luis Quiel, associate medical director of hospital medicine/associate chief hospitalist at Beth Israel Lahey Health, Boston, was able to disconnect from the demands of his daily life. 

Upon entering the workshop, attendees were asked to drop their phones and beepers in a box that they would not be able to access for the remainder of the day. This required them to leave work behind and focus on their goals and vision for their leadership trajectories, Quiel said. 

He had heard about the program from other physicians who knew that he was seeking mentorship on how to plan his career in leadership for next five to 10 years. Quiel said he learned the importance of leading by example, delegating, and taking care of the whole self in order to become a better leader, including through exercise, diet and relaxation techniques. 

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had, not just as a physician but as a person, to get to connect with other physicians and leaders in the field.” Quiel said. 

After the workshop, Quiel’s family and work colleagues immediately noticed a significant difference in his leadership skills and outlook, he said.

“It was basically a brain reset,” Quiel said. “It gave me the focus to find those goals I had set for myself when I first started out in the field.” 

Turning inward to become a better leader 

Mark Calderon, chief medical officer for Atlantic Accountable Care Organization — an ACO at Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System dedicated to improving population health — attended the workshop earlier this year. 

“I formed habits that I learned at the Physician Leadership Experience that I’m still doing to this day,” Calderon said, “and I don’t intend to stop because they really work for me.” 

He said the program “asks you to put down your defenses and allow yourself to be vulnerable, honest and expressive. The more you do that, the more you get out of the whole exercise.” 

For example, one exercise required attendees to solicit feedback from colleagues, peers, family members and/or friends on how they operate as a leader, Calderon said. He said that he was encouraged to ask those around him for examples of how he operates as the best version of himself and what it means when he “brings his A-game.” He also had to ask for feedback on how he could improve his behavior and attitude and what it looks like when he’s not operating at his best. 

While he had to really push and challenge some individuals for more honest feedback, it didn’t take much coaxing for his 22-year-old daughter to offer her insight, Calderon joked.

“Physicians could really benefit from this program, as … it lets you focus on what is important in life, your family and those around you,” Calderon said. “I’d particularly recommend the experience for physicians who may feel disengaged or are struggling with all the rapid changes in health care right now.” 

A lasting impact on leadership style, wellbeing 

Part of the workshop included writing thank-you notes to those who had offered their feedback to help attendees lead as their best selves. Calderon wrote one to Brian Gragnolati, CEO of Atlantic Health System and AHA board chair, to thank him for all he’s done to invest in people and allow for these growth opportunities for staff. 

Quiel said that in today’s fast-paced health care landscape, physicians can perceive their daily lives to be almost machine-like, without ever stopping to recharge and recalibrate. “But this experience put me back on track in remembering why I really started my career in medicine, and that was to care for others,” he said. 

Caring for others includes his colleagues, and Quiel left the experience valuing his relationships with staff more. He said he now better embraces the talents of others, which helps in delegation, preventing burnout, and encouraging teamwork.  

Quiel encourages all health care leaders to make the time to attend the workshop. 

“It’s worth every second you’ll spend there,” he said.  

There are still spots available for the 2019 Physician Leadership Experience in Boston July 17-19. Register here.  

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