Background: Physician leadership development programs typically aim to strengthen physicians' leadership competencies and improve organizational performance. We conducted a systematic review of medical literature on physician leadership development programs in order to characterize the setting, educational content, teaching methods, and learning outcomes achieved.
Methods: Articles were identified through a search in Ovid MEDLINE from 1950 through November 2013. We included articles that described programs designed to expose physicians to leadership concepts, outlined teaching methods, and reported evaluation outcomes. A thematic analysis was conducted using a structured data entry form with categories for setting/target group, educational content, format, type of evaluation and outcomes.
Results: We identified 45 studies that met eligibility criteria, of which 35 reported on programs exclusively targeting physicians. The majority of programs focused on skills training and technical and conceptual knowledge, while fewer programs focused on personal growth and awareness. Half of the studies used pre/post intervention designs, and four studies used a comparison group. Positive outcomes were reported in all studies, although the majority of studies relied on learner satisfaction scores and self-assessed knowledge or behavioral change. Only six studies documented favorable organizational outcomes, such as improvement in quality indicators for disease management. The leadership programs examined in these studies were characterized by the use of multiple learning methods, including lectures, seminars, group work, and action learning projects in multidisciplinary teams.
Discussion: Physician leadership development programs are associated with increased self-assessed knowledge and expertise; however, few studies have examined outcomes at a system level. Our synthesis of the literature suggests important gaps, including a lack of programs that integrate non-physician and physician professionals, limited use of more interactive learning and feedback to develop greater self-awareness, and an overly narrow focus on individual-level rather than system-level outcomes.