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The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our medical leaders like no other health crisis in living memory. The challenges faced by our profession have prompted many colleagues to reflect frankly on their own leadership capabilities and potential. November 2020’s ‘Leaders in Healthcare’ conference1 aimed to empower and inspire clinicians to become better healthcare leaders. During the conference’s ‘UK 4 nations CMO’ panel session, the chief medical officers (CMOs) discussed their experiences of leadership throughout the pandemic. Dr Frank Atherton (Wales), Dr Michael McBride (Northern Ireland), Dr Gregor Smith (Scotland) and Professor Chris Whitty (England) reflected with candour on their experiences as CMO of each nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and the sometimes difficult lessons they have learnt as leaders over this period. As well as the onerous task presented trying to keep a foot in each camp of the medical and political worlds, the CMOs have borne the additional strain of being catapulted into a demanding, relentless media spotlight. While being heralded as celebrities of the pandemic epoch, this has inevitably led to vilification in the public and on social media. These experiences have provided them with a powerful platform that also generates abundant opportunities for self-reflection. In sharing their experiences, we can better understand our own potential as leaders in addition to the pitfalls that leadership as a clinician can bring.
It was striking how many of their reflections on the particular challenges of being senior leaders during the pandemic aligned closely with some of the challenges faced by clinicians in their everyday work. This interview revealed that much of our clinical training and professional experience builds generic skills within our workforce that form the foundations used by senior leaders in times of crisis. This provides tremendous impetus for clinicians to reflect on their own leadership skills and inspire …
Contributors CW and CEM planned and wrote the article. HJSL conducted the interview with the CMOs and reviewed the article.
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.