Recent American research (Witt/Kiefer and Hogan, 2015) designed to predict physician executive performance has demonstrated some intuitively obvious results and some rather interesting findings. This study made use of a general personality test (similar to the NEO), the HDS which describes behaviour under pressure, and the MVPI which describes motivation and interests.

Findings suggest that being even-tempered and not letting small things become bothersome differentiate highly performing rather than simply good medical executives. Being slightly more independent than most, resilient under pressure, able to handle competing priorities with ease, and being optimistic and confident were all differentiating features. The findings also indicate that individuals who are motivated to achieve results and to share credit with others are also likely to excel. As expected, highly performing executives are data-based decision makers who value hard metrics to guide decision-making together with an ability to absorb large amounts of new information and adapt to the new healthcare landscape.

A particularly interesting finding was that being less focused on financial success (Commerce on the MVPI), as well as being unafraid to approach problems uniquely and innovatively (Imaginative on the HDS) were both predictive of high performance. Being highly imaginative can be associated with a lack of pragmatism and/or with being eccentric, especially under pressure. Presumably, however, if one can find innovative and novel solutions (underpinned by strong metrics or the development of new metrics to prove success) to persistent problems that impact organizational performance then performance is highly likely to be excellent. The authors also state that the discrepancy in the Commerce orientation may suggest that physicians are not predisposed to concern themselves with profitability, monetary compensation, and the interplay between tasks and bottom line – thereby bridging the gap between making money and providing high-quality healthcare.

As a US study there are inevitably some differences related to the context – one of the particular findings shows that strong physician leadership fosters patient loyalty in a health system. This would be difficult to apply in the UK context given patient pooling and the nature of private work.

The findings have important implications for the selection and recruitment of medical and clinical directors and for doctors seeking other medical leadership positions.

by Dr. Megan Joffe