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New AATS Leadership Course Fills an Emerging Need

By: MARK S. LESNEY, Frontline Medical Communications


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Advances in technology from new forms of operative procedures, medical treatment, and imaging to electronic health record systems are rapidly changing thoracic surgery practice and cost structure. In addition, new government and insurance initiatives are changing the playing field at the same time as a crisis in recruitment and an aging population threaten to create a shortage of thoracic surgeons. In the face of these changes, the need for strong and polished leadership at all levels becomes a necessity.

To address these new leadership demands, specific training has become an imperative, and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) has taken the initiative in this area by sponsoring new courses to further empower the current and upcoming generation of leaders.


Courtesy of Heratch Photography

AATS/Brandeis Leadership Course: 2012 participants group photo

The Brandeis University Advanced Leadership Program held September 20-23 was sponsored by the AATS and was supported in part by an unrestricted educational grant from Covidien. It was provided through the Brandeis' Heller School?s Executive Education Program, which creates courses in conjunction with client input to provide leaders and upcoming leaders "with concepts and tools needed to impact policy and improve performance," according to the program website. The courses are designed to allow participants to "measure, assess, and benchmark performance, and build commitment to operational excellence. The interactive sessions build on existing expertise and experience, and spark new ideas and skills in a collegial environment with peers."

The program website also notes that "the current environment demands that physician leaders develop a balance of policy and management skills in order to be effective." This environment requires building knowledge and skills that will improve the performance of their teams and organization and increase their personal and professional satisfaction-and impact, according to Dr. Jon Chilingerian, Ph.D., director of the Heller School program.

Dr. John S. Ikonomidis, who is chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, summarized his experience of the course: "Dr. Chilingerian oversaw a very fast-paced and concentrated learning experience. Numerous subjects such as collective intelligence and strategic thinking in health care, effective leadership styles, the care and process of patient flow, leading change, and conflict negotiation were covered in great detail." Formal presentations were supplemented with group breakout sessions and computer simulations and several guest lecturers also provided valuable and diverse perspectives, according to Dr. Ikonomidis.

"For me, the highlight of the course was the highly entertaining and informative lecture given by Stuart Altman on the history, current status, and future directions of federal health care management. This was truly a fantastic course that I would recommend to anyone interested in the science and practice of health care leadership," he added.

Dr. Michael J. Liptay, another course participant, stated that "With the changing landscape of health care and a perceived dearth of physician leaders, surgeons should be well positioned with our natural leadership ability. This course provided thoughtful advice in adapting from an autocratic style most familiar in the operating room to one of effective engaging leadership. The most important lesson for me was that the successful leader doesn?t spend time persuading everyone to buy into his vision; but rather frames and asks powerful questions en route to creating a respectful dialogue. Through this process emerges a consensus and commitment to strategic goals." Dr. Liptay is chief of the division of thoracic surgery and program director, Thoracic Surgery Residency, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and an associate medical editor for Thoracic Surgery News.

According to course participant Dr. Jean-Francois Legare, associate professor of surgery, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.: "I wish I would have taken this type of course much earlier in my career. I see now many occasions where I made mistakes I could have avoided. I speak as a Canadian entering my mid-career and realizing that health administration is an essential part of my daily work. I now feel better equipped to handle and advocate for myself and my colleagues and defend our interests and the interests of our patients. I am very grateful of the opportunity that was offered to me to attend that course."

Dr. Kirk Kanter, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery, Emory University, Atlanta, who also participated, added: "I found the AATS leadership course to be extremely valuable and provocative. The ability to interact in the classroom with the faculty and with other cardiothoracic surgeons immensely enhanced the entire training program. It was an extremely valuable investment in time, and I hope that in the future I will be able to participate in similar courses. I recommend it highly to any cardiothoracic surgeon who is interested in not only the interaction with his colleagues (both surgeons and administrators) in the hospital, [but also] getting an insight into the health care system as a whole."

Dr. Kevin Lobdell of Levine Children?s Hospital of North Carolina, Charlotte, summarized the course: "Based on my experience and conversations with the international cadre of distinguished colleagues, it was highly regarded and an unmitigated success. It was valuable to leaders at various levels, fostering expansion of their education and professional horizons through the intimate and interactive process."

This AATS-sponsored course is in addition to the highly-rated AATS academy program held immediately prior to the AATS annual meeting each year. The academy, inaugurated in 2009, provides a didactic and interactive program for new and upcoming CT-surgeon leaders, including networking opportunities with the goal of building professional relationships and future mentoring possibilities with faculty members who have been selected based upon their expertise, according to the AATS.

None of the participant doctors quoted had a financial interest in the course.

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Apr 24 - 25
New York, NY
American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS): Aortic Symposium 2014
Apr 26 - 30
American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS): Annual Meeting
May 28 - 31
Boston, MA
International Society for Minimally Invasive Cardiothoracic Surgery (ISMICS)
Jun 15 - 18
European Society of Thoracic Surgeons (ESTS): 22nd European Conference on General Thoracic Surgery
Jun 18 - 21
Washington, DC
American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO): Annual Conference

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