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Case Studies: Physician Leadership Development



Physician Leadership Development with Sutter Health / Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group (PAFMG) / Sutter Medical Group Sacramento


48,000 employees / 5,000+ physicians / 24 hospitals, 11 home health locations, 7 hospice locations


Sutter Health conducted their Needs Assessment in 2011-2012, with focus on frontline physician leaders. They discovered that biggest area of need was the “soft skills” of leadership.


PLG (partnering with Center for Physician Leadership) worked with Sutter Health to develop and pilot a foundational leadership program for physicians in 2012.  Since then we have run 22 cohorts of physicians (~1000 participants) through the program, with three separate geographic affiliates of the organization. Since 2016 we have included other Advanced Practice Clinicians (PAs, NPs).

Results Demonstrated (2012-2013 pilot program):

Data on the program has demonstrated sustainable results.  Based on pre- and post-program surveys and interviews we have found: 

  • A 17% improvement in physician perception of their communication effectiveness

  • A 21% improvement in ability to motivate and influence others

  • A 21% improvement in ability to lead change

  • A 22% improvement in overall Emotional Intelligence

  • A 39% improvement in ability to lead and develop teams

  • A 42% improvement in overall performance management


In 2016, this health organization was named one of the “Top 10 Physician Leadership Development Programs” in the country

97% of clinician participants over 22 cohorts said that they would "highly recommend" this program to their colleagues

"I recently had the opportunity to spend 4 full days learning from Ashley and Fred in a physician leadership course through Palo Alto Medical Foundation. They are truly gifted in teaching leadership to physicians. They have a wonderful interactive and engaging style that helps the learning process. They stress and help convey an understanding of the difference between leading and managing and the importance of emotional intelligence in being a leader. They helped us move from debating each other to having dialogue and managing change in a group. This course ranks up there as one of the single most life-altering courses I have ever taken and have already seen the benefits in my administrative activities.


Chairman – Sequoia Hospital Heart and Vascular Institute; Director – Cardiac Electrophysiology, Sequoia Hospital


Physician Leadership Development with Covenant Health/Providence St. Joseph Health

PLG (as part of the Center for Physician Leadership) partnered with Covenant Health/Providence St. Joseph Health's senior operational and clinical leaders to identify a Physician Leadership Strategy to strengthen their organization’s physician engagement and involvement in critical system initiatives, including the development of Clinical Institutes and Value Improvement Projects.  PLG developed and piloted their foundational development program for physicians in 2017, and continues to partner with them to build effective physician leaders in their system.

Two-year program data demonstrated significant results. Based on pre-program and post-program surveys and interviews (2018-2019) we saw:

  • A 47% improvement in physicians’ ability to recognize and appreciate differences in their personal style and those of others

  • A 48% increase in physicians’ comfort level with addressing behavior or performance issues of those they lead

  • A 49% increase in physicians’ understanding of the need to manage their assumptions about people and situations

  • A 56% increase in physicians’ ability to understand the needs of their stakeholders during change

  • A 74% increase in physicians’ ability to recognize team dysfunctions

  • A 75% increase in physicians’ ability to address conflict within their teams or groups

These sessions didn't just turn on a lightbulb, they turned on the lights at Yankee Stadium.  My emergency centers had just been acquired by Covenant and was going through a hell of time managing the merger. The instruction was so spot on and pertinent to me.  I actually look forward to dealing with work conflicts and conversations now with the new tools you have given me.  Even my family has noticed a change in how I deal with them.  I know your instruction was for the healthcare world, but there is definitely some cross-over into personal lives.  I am grateful for the personal and professional growth I have experienced.”


ED Practice Director, Covenant Health

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