Leading by Following First

Hand holding a white doctor's lab coat.
UW-GU Health Partnership

January 22, 2024
Cindy Hval | UW-GU Health Partnership

The University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM) has a variety of pathways available to students interested in pursuing a specialized interest in medicine. In 2019, UWSOM-Spokane added the Leadership Pathway, a program developed by Gonzaga's School of Leadership Studies that aims to lay the foundation for aspiring physicians to be capable, effective leaders within their organizations and communities.

“It’s such a unique opportunity for our students because we have the expertise of the Gonzaga School of Leadership,” said program director Darin Eckert, assistant clinical dean for Spokane. 

“Historically, as physicians, we haven’t had a lot of leadership training, yet we find ourselves placed in those kinds of positions beginning early in our careers." - Darin Eckert

The course features three main sections: Leading Self (knowing your strengths and weaknesses), Leading Others (teamwork and communication), and Leading in Community (learning what leadership looks like in large organizations or in a community).

“Medicine is a team sport, and to offer patients the best possible care, physicians need to be effective leaders and communicators,” Eckert said.

Paradoxically, that means understanding how to follow.

As the course addresses the dynamics of followership, students learn all the different roles they will undertake during their careers. A special feature is a panel including a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a physician assistant, a physical therapist and an administrator, demonstrating the importance of how they all work together to provide quality patient care.

Health students of UW-GU health partnership with stethoscopes.
Students of University of Washington School of Medicine (UWSOM), Spokane.

Eckert said learning skills like empathetic listening gives students a solid background when they are asked to step into leadership roles.

For example, shortly after he began working as a physician at Rockwood Clinic, he was asked to be a section head and later became a member of the board of directors.

“There’s a push for physicians to be involved in leadership of large health care organizations,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have it be a more foundational part of their education?”

Gonzaga’s School of Leadership Studies, under the direction of Jeff Borden, dean, encourages adaptive skills over following any single leadership style. “We want to help leaders assess specific outcomes and complexities of a given situation and adapt communication, organization and strategic thinking accordingly,” he said. 

“It’s exciting to share this framework with medical students who will, one day, leverage this skillset in health care environments.”- Jeff Borden

While coursework is completed during the first two years of the Leadership Pathway, mentoring continues into the students’ third year of medical school via Zoom.

About 10 local health care leaders, physicians and administrators are mentors to students and provide several touch points for them, Eckert explained.

A Student Perspective

Grayson Baden, an inaugural student in the Leadership Pathway, is deeply appreciative of her experience. Now a surgical resident at the University of North Dakota, she’s kept in touch with her mentor.

“That mentorship and the community connections are so valuable,” she said.

During her residency applications, she felt her experience in the program augmented her qualifications.

As a teen growing up in Arlington, Wash., she’d planned to become a science teacher. However, after job-shadowing a pediatrician, she said she realized, “doctors really are science teachers. Patient education is a huge part of the job.”

Watching medical professionals explain diagnosis and care to patients spurred her desire to become a physician, and the Leadership Pathway appealed to her.

“I knew it would be applicable no matter what type of medical practice I pursued,” she said. “It was a way to hit the ground running and feel more prepared.”

Early in the program, she learned one of her strengths was fostering growth in others.

“That really explained how I handled previous leadership roles,” said Baden. “This pathway requires a lot of self-reflection and vulnerability, but I’m so glad I did it!”

She realized specializing in general surgery would require her to finesse her leadership skills.

“Having empathy and respect when listening to colleagues can make things move smoother in the OR,” she said.

She witnessed that skill while on rounds in Spokane.

As a patient reached the end of life, she watched the attending physician lead the team of medical professionals with compassion for the patient and their family, as well as the team assigned to their care.

“He handled the medical problems while recognizing the emotional aspect on us,” recalled Baden. “It was powerful to see. He knew what needed to be done, but navigated his team through a painful situation. I still reflect on that.”

That’s exactly what faculty members hoped for.

The Leadership Pathway, developed and administered by Gonzaga’s Center for Lifelong Learning, has been so well received that in 2023 Gonzaga University School of Leadership Studies launched a Certificate in Healthcare Leadership program developed through the UW School of Medicine-Gonzaga University Health Partnership.

About the UW-GU Health Partnership

The University of Washington School of Medicine and Gonzaga University formed a Health Partnership in 2016 with a vision to improve health and prosperity throughout eastern Washington by transforming medical education, research and innovation. The combined strengths of each institution – deep community roots and world-class health and medical education – and the vast network of students, faculty and health care professionals is creating an impact by preparing the next generation of health care professionals to advance discovery and develop new ways to care for patients. 
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