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Clinical Editors as Clinical Leaders: Exploring the role of the clinical editor as a leader

What makes a leader? Many general practitioners provide excellent clinical leadership in HealthPathways despite feeling unprepared and lacking confidence in their leadership abilities, says Regional Group Clinical Advisor for Australia, Dr Louse Delaney.

When GPs step up to do something that needs to be done, this “accidental leadership” is enabling significant change, she says.

Dr Louise Delaney focused on the role of the clinical editor as a leader in the HealthPathways environment in her “Clinical Editors as Clinical Leaders” workshop on Day 1 and 2 of the 2018 HealthPathways Conference.

The thought provoking and practical session touched on the typical experiences of many GPs as they transition from the academic system to the health system. Reflecting on her own experiences as a young doctor, Dr Delaney described the need to develop resilience and mental toughness to help cope with the harsh realities of working in a hospital.

In contrast to a hospital environment where young doctors find little opportunity to effect change, many later enjoyed the progression into general practice where they found more independence and autonomy, she said.

However, the challenges of running a general practice as a business whilst juggling family and other commitments could also result in doctors feeling isolated and unsupported.

Dr Delaney described many GPs working in the health system as “accidental leaders”. Despite feeling unsure about their leadership skills, they were consistently providing excellent leadership within their health system. Equally, for many GPs attending the conference, it was likely they had found themselves as “accidental leaders” working within the HealthPathways Community, she said.

“Clinical training has rigorous standards which we are all used to. This is not so in leadership, and as a result, many of us doubt ourselves as leaders because we feel we have not been trained for the role.”

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Dr Louise Delaney discusses what makes a leader in the Clinical Editors as Clinical Leaders Workshop.

Chief Clinical Editor for the HealthPathways Community, Dr Graham McGeoch and Clinical Lead for Canterbury Hospital HealthPathways, Dr Michael Ardagh provided their own anecdotes of falling into “unintentional leadership”.

This included Dr McGeoch becoming an accidental leader of a family health centre and Dr Ardagh’s accidental career path leading to him becoming the first Professor of Emergency Medicine in New Zealand.

“Due to dissatisfaction with how the health system was not working at the time, it was easy to find myself in positions that I didn’t plan for and that were difficult to get out of,” said Dr McGeoch.

“It was accidental leadership in action.”

Recounting his desire to bring about health system change in Canterbury, Dr Ardagh said he had found the best solution was to “get people face to face in a room together”.

“This led on naturally to HealthPathways,” he said.

Accidental leaders were often those who stepped up to fill a void when they simply saw what needed to be done, said Dr Delaney. While there were some good leadership courses on offer, there were also many examples from different sectors of people providing excellent leadership without leadership training, she said.

After looking at some different leadership models, participants worked in groups to identify key reasons parts of the health system were “broken”, following the problem resolution model of American author Seth Godin.

Coming back together to share their conclusions, participants were encouraged to recognise their natural desire to fix things, or get things done, as a natural leadership quality. Instead of doubting their abilities due to lack of formal leadership training, they were encouraged to take considered risks, start to implement leadership in their everyday work and recognise that accidental leadership has much to offer in the HealthPathways environment.

The “Clinical Editors as Clinical Leaders” workshop was linked to the Conference Learning Module for Clinical Editors.