Healthcare Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Industry Advice Healthcare Leadership

There’s an immense need, now more than ever, for effective leadership in healthcare. Specifically, the global pandemic has highlighted the importance of innovative healthcare leaders who are able to quickly formulate effective solutions. Additional challenges such as healthcare accessibility and affordability require effective forward-thinking leaders.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can make a mark in healthcare today, here’s an overview of what healthcare leadership is, why it’s important, and what makes an effective leader in the healthcare system.

What is healthcare leadership?

Leadership is often defined as the ability to manage a team effectively. This definition, however, is only a part of what makes an effective leader. Healthcare leadership isn’t about maintaining the status quo, but identifying challenges in the system and finding solutions to those problems.

“Healthcare leadership is taking an active role in the direction of healthcare today,” says  Dr. Robert Baginski, director of interdisciplinary affairs in Northeastern University’s Department of Medical Sciences and associate clinical professor. “It ideally should be guiding healthcare in the direction that we feel it should go in the future.”

The importance of leadership in healthcare

Effective leadership in healthcare is incredibly important, especially when considering the expense of modern care. Here’s a closer look at the various ways that effective leadership can make a lasting impact.

1. Improves quality of care

Effective leadership is integral to quality healthcare. If a healthcare team is uncoordinated or unfocused, patients often pay the price. Great leaders facilitate communication, boost productivity, and put others first. This ability is critical to quality patient care since healthcare often requires a rapid response to issues that arise. In such situations, communication and efficiency are vital.

2. Creates adaptable leaders

One of the most prominent examples of needing adaptability in healthcare is the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the American Psychological Association identified seven crucial leadership qualities necessary for combatting the pandemic.

  1. Effective stress management
  2. Empathy and optimism when sharing information
  3. Building trust with expertise and dependability
  4. Honesty and transparency
  5. Consistent communication
  6. Openness to feedback
  7. Ability to serve as role models

When unpredictability and uncertainty is rampant, effective leadership is crucial. An excellent leader will be able to not only navigate a stressful situation but also lead others through it and find solutions for the future.

3. Encourages forward thinking

Leadership and management are often used as synonyms, but the reality is that leadership involves much more than the day-to-day operations of a business. Healthcare in particular has a need for leaders who are looking to the future of healthcare and how to improve it.

While healthcare leadership is important to every country, according to the World Population Review, the United States has higher healthcare costs than any other country. Furthermore, while the number of uninsured individuals in the U.S. is lower than ever, the healthcare system is highly dependent on access to insurance coverage.

According to a report from the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, compared to similar countries, the United States has:

  • The highest pregnancy-related mortality rate.
  • A higher-than-average rate of diabetes and congestive heart failure.
  • A higher percentage of reported medication and treatment errors than the majority of comparable countries.

According to Baginski, improvements to the healthcare system are possible with effective leadership. “Ideally, I feel healthcare should be looking to the future, toward solutions where we can provide the best and the most healthcare to those who need it most, regardless of insurance status, access to money, or where they live,” he says.

4. Produces innovative leaders

One of the most prevalent challenges facing the healthcare industry today is the chronic shortage of healthcare professionals. A 2022 survey of 1,000 healthcare staff found that 48%  don’t believe their organization is doing enough to address burnout.

The healthcare industry is in need of leaders who are able to identify the problems that are leading to burnout and resolve them. Baginski explains that good leaders do two things differently when compared to ineffective leaders:

  • Identification: They recognize problems as they arise, and proactively consider potential issues. For example, the same survey reported that 57% of healthcare workers are concerned that their highly repetitive tasks will ultimately lead to burnout.
  • Innovation: They find solutions to those problems and contribute to the future of healthcare. To address the repetitive tasks in healthcare, many healthcare workers are hopeful that technology and automation will improve their overall experience and allow them to focus more closely on patient care.

What makes a healthcare leader effective?

Individuals who take on a leadership role in healthcare need several skills to be effective. Five essential leadership skills in healthcare are:

  • Mentorship: An effective leader doesn’t stand above others but seeks to foster leadership qualities in them.
  • Challenging the status quo: Leaders aren’t content with the status quo but are always seeking opportunities to innovate and improve.
  • Educating others: In addition to mentoring others at the individual level, effective leaders seek to educate others outside of their direct influence.
  • Humility: An effective leader isn’t afraid to accept feedback or criticism. Since much is unknown about healthcare, mistakes are often inevitable. A good leader will admit their mistakes or skill and expertise gaps.
  • Creating opportunities for others: Leaders always look to the future. Instead of sole personal improvement, an effective leader will prioritize helping the next generation of healthcare professionals obtain leadership traits.

One of the most detrimental traits to quality healthcare is complacency. Self-satisfaction often leads to stagnation rather than proactivity. An effective leader recognizes their limitations and understands that there’s always something new to learn. According to Baginski, “Bad leadership is keeping things as they always have been because that’s the way they’ve been done previously. That doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Ready to develop your leadership skills?

If you’re hoping to advance your career in healthcare to a leadership position, it’s important to ensure that you’re prepared. One of the best ways to obtain the relevant skills and qualifications to advance to a leadership role is to obtain a relevant degree.

“Get all of your education and your experience first, and then get all of your information before you address that problem,” Baginski says. “Learn how to critically assess information and get all your ducks in a row before you start to confront change.”

If you want to become a more effective leader and advance your career, consider obtaining Northeastern University’s Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) in Healthcare Leadership. This degree will provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary to take your first steps into a successful leadership role.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2023. It has since been updated for relevance and accuracy.