Knowledge & Insight

Where have all the clinical leaders gone?

Mon 28 January 2013

There are many differences between private and public healthcare providers, yet one characteristic they both share is a scarcity of senior clinicians willing to put themselves forward for clinical leadership roles. Organisations are increasingly finding that those clinicians who do put themselves forward rarely have the appropriate experience to perform at the level required. If this trend remains unaddressed, it will inevitably lead to major long-term problems for healthcare providers.

The term “clinical leaders” refers to those individuals who have become experts within their chosen medical fields and, through promotion, are offered the opportunity to lead their department in the pursuit of patient-centred clinical excellence. This is of course a sensible and logical process, but it’s a process that isn’t functioning effectively. Yet the issue isn’t a lack of promotion opportunities within the healthcare sector. It is frequently a reluctance on the part of clinicians to pursue a clinical leadership role.

Why a reluctance to provide clinical leadership?

As executive head-hunters we are continually interviewing and engaging with senior clinicians, and over the years we have gained a deep insight into the decision-making process of consultants who are considering a career change. Career advancement usually features strongly on their list of priorities, as does recognition for being a leader in their field. Yet when they consider the additional workload associated with a leadership role, and the increased management responsibility combined with a decline in their clinical duties, the desire to pursue a clinical leadership role starts to diminish.

Consultants by their very nature are driven by different agendas to those who work in industry. For most, they chose a career in healthcare so that they could serve the needs of patients, and become experts recognised for excellence within their specialist field. And whilst it’s true that clinical leadership roles can meet some of these needs, for many clinicians, the gap is just too great. This is the real reason why so many shy away from pursuing long-term careers within a managerial or leadership function.

Why is this a problem for the healthcare sector?

Strong clinical leadership is critical to the long-term success of the healthcare sector. Just as in the commercial sector, where effective succession planning is crucial to innovation and growth, so the healthcare sector also requires a steady flow of new talent. And without a constant stream of top performing senior clinicians progressing into clinical leadership roles, there is a risk of stagnation.

What’s the solution?

When talking to Chief Executives and Medical Directors of the UK’s leading Trusts and healthcare providers, it’s clear that they are frustrated by the lack of qualified people applying for leadership roles. The most experienced consultants rarely want the hassle of additional responsibility without a rise in pay. And the result is that the way is left clear for less-qualified consultants to apply for these roles. Yet Stone Executive has successfully placed many high profile consultants into clinical leaderships roles in recent years, and we’ve achieved this by proactively engaging with senior consultants and working hard to understand their aims and ambitions.

We strongly believe that the secret to succession planning is to continually interview qualified candidates regardless of whether you have a current opening. Don’t wait until you have a vacancy, stay ahead of the curve by continually engaging with a number of potential candidates. The most effective way to achieve this is to work with an executive head-hunter like Stone Executive. We will help you continually identify and build relationships with those people who have the ability both to perform at a senior level and inspire others. It means you can build your succession planning around a UK-wide talent pool and ensure your organisation is well-placed to engage and attract the very best people. It’s the only way to ensure continued high-quality clinical leadership that will support and drive organisational performance.

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