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Primary care physician leaders’ perspectives on opportunities and challenges in healthcare leadership: a qualitative study


Background There is an increasing demand for physicians to assume leadership roles in hospitals, health systems, clinics and community settings, given the documented positive outcomes of physician leadership and the systemic shifts towards value-based care. The purpose of this study is to examine how primary care physicians (PCPs) perceive and experience leadership roles. Better understanding how PCPs perceive leadership affords the opportunity to influence changes in primary care training in order to more adequately prepare and support physicians for current and future leadership roles.

Methods This study used qualitative interviews, conducted from January to May 2020. The participants included 27 PCPs, recruited via the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care newsletters and through snowball sampling techniques. Participants worked in 22 different organisations, including major urban health systems, corporate pharmacy, public health departments and academic medical centres.

Results Using content analysis and qualitative comparative analysis methodologies, three major themes and seven subthemes emerged from the interviews. The primary themes included the advantage PCPs have in leadership positions, the lack of leadership training and development, and disincentives to leading.

Conclusions While PCPs perceive primary care to hold a unique position that would incline them towards leadership, the lack of training and other noted disincentives are barriers to leadership. Therefore, health organisations should seek to invest in, better train and promote PCPs in leadership.

  • primary care
  • medical leadership
  • management

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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