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Physician leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic: an emphasis on the team, well-being and leadership reasoning
  1. Taylor C. Standiford1,
  2. Kavya Davuluri1,
  3. Nicole Trupiano1,
  4. David Portney1,
  5. Larry Gruppen2,
  6. Alexandra H. Vinson2
  1. 1 University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  2. 2 Learning Health Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to Taylor C. Standiford, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA; standifo{at}


Background The COVID-19 pandemic impacted many aspects of normal operations in academic medicine. While effective leadership is always important, the intensity and urgency of COVID-19 challenged academic medicine leaders to find new ways to lead their institutions and manage their own experiences of the pandemic.

Methods Sixteen physician leaders from Michigan Medicine took part in semistructured interviews during April and May 2020. Participants were asked open-ended questions about the attributes and techniques that were important to effectively lead during a crisis. The authors analysed the interviews using thematic analysis.

Results Participants described three overarching themes of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) bringing together a diverse team with clear, shared goals; (2) using a range of strategies to tend to their teams’—as well as their own—well-being; and (3) engaging in leadership reasoning as a way of learning from others and reflecting on their own actions to inform their future leadership practice.

Conclusion The results of this study reveal several salient themes of crisis leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings also highlight the role of leadership reasoning, a reflective practice employed by leaders to understand and improve their leadership skills. This finding presents leadership skill development as part of lifelong learning in medicine. Findings may be incorporated into best practices and preparations to inform future healthcare leaders.

  • leadership assessment
  • medical leadership
  • clinical leadership
  • learning

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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  • Contributors TCS and DP conceived the idea. LG and AV further developed study idea. TCS, DP, NT and KD recruited participants and performed data collection. TCS, NT and KD performed data interpretation and analysis. AV oversaw data analysis. TCS and AV wrote manuscript. DP, NT, KD and LG provided manuscript revisions. All authors have provided final approval for manuscript publication and agree to be accountable for the overall content.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.