ACR Bulletin

Covering topics relevant to the practice of radiology

Educating Strong Leaders

For ten years, the ACR has been putting business skills within reach of all radiologists — with custom educational programming through the RLI.
Jump to Article

As radiologists, we need to get this kind of out-of-the-box leadership training so that we can get more involved and try to influence everything that’s happening in the world around us.

—Joseph D. Calandra, MD, FACR
December 20, 2021

The only constant in life is change, according to Greek philosopher Heraclitus. That philosophy can apply to all areas of life but is acutely relevant to the practice and business of medicine.

Radiologists who want to hold their own among the ever-shifting healthcare landscape must deepen their knowledge of business and leadership practices. Medical school prepares physicians with the clinical and interpretive skills to provide quality patient care — but numerous non-interpretive skills are necessary to succeed in today’s healthcare institutions and practice settings.

The ACR recognized this need more than a decade ago, and in 2012 launched the Radiology Leadership Institute® (RLI) — the specialty’s first program dedicated to professional development and leadership training for radiologists. While some physicians choose to pursue an MBA to gain business and leadership skills, the ACR aimed to put that knowledge within reach of all radiologists — with custom educational programming that was designed by radiologists for radiologists.

Since 2012, more than 9,000 radiologists from across the U.S. have participated in the numerous RLI programs, gaining the essential, non-clinical skills to survive and thrive in today’s complex and ever-changing healthcare landscape. In the second of a four-part series commemorating the RLI’s 10-year anniversary, the Bulletin delves into the topics and skills the programs cover, and why this knowledge is critical to advancing the careers of future radiology leaders.

Seeking Relevant and Timely Information

Providing quality patient care is the leading tenet of radiology but providing quality care within a complex practice environment requires a range of non-clinical skills that aren’t taught in medical school. Even radiologists without a formal leadership title can benefit from developing a leadership mindset. Interpersonal and business skills are important steppingstones to advancing and spearheading change within an organization.

In addition to reading and interpreting images, radiologists must coordinate and collaborate with various stakeholders throughout their careers. Leading and managing teams is one of those essential, non-interpretive skills that can make a difference in how radiologists progress in their own careers and in how they care for their patients.

“Physicians are not necessarily taught in a way that enables us to lead in teams effectively,” notes Geraldine B. McGinty, MD, MBA, FACR, RLI faculty member, senior associate dean for clinical affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine, and past chair of the ACR BOC. “Often, we’re taught that as physicians we have to be the lone decision-makers, and that we must present as the smartest person in the room. Modern-day leadership challenges require us to to engage and empower our teams to perform effectively.”

Learning Change Management

Never-ending change is another challenge that radiologists will certainly encounter but might feel unequipped to manage. The RLI offers many programs that focus on the topic of leading and managing change. Scott B. Harter, MD, FACR, associate professor at the University of Arkansas, attended the first RLI Summit where he learned about change management — a transformational process that follows key stages to build change over time.

It was one of several skills Harter says he has learned through the RLI that helped him make specific improvements within his former private practice. “Change is hard, and you often see it fail more than it succeeds,” Harter explains. “Convincing the group to change was smoother and easier because we followed the change management steps, got the right people together, and paid strict attention to the details.”

Understanding Finance and Economics

Learning the craft of medicine can be isolating, and it’s easy to get distracted or underappreciate the importance of typical business-related topics, such as finance and economics, explains Kurt A. Schoppe, MD, an RLI faculty member and member of the ACR Commission on Economics. Avoiding these topics can leave radiologists at a disadvantage within their organization and throughout their career, Schoppe adds.

The economics side of healthcare refers to the external environment in which radiologists are providing services. That environment dictates how radiologists and medical organizations get reimbursed, and is affected by local and national policies. Much of the healthcare finance world revolves around things like the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Conversion Factor and relative value units. Becoming familiar with these concepts can allow radiologists to more accurately calculate relative risk and reward. “Understanding the nuances of how payer contracts are written with respect to risk and Medicare requires you to be familiar with the larger economics and health policy spectrum,” Schoppe says. “You don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty details, but you need to understand how those larger economic winds and trends will affect your local business contracts.”

Understanding the basics of personal finance protects radiologists’ interests and gives them the confidence to have challenging conversations about financial arrangements. The RLI programs highlight the various types of financial skills — such as accounting, management, revenues, debts, and investments — that radiologists will find useful at every stage of their career.

Gaining Emotional Intelligence

Navigating complex healthcare organizations requires a deeper understanding of relationships and human behavior. Emotional intelligence is one such skill that is critical for radiologists because “a lot of what we do is about connection — connecting with your staff, patients, and colleagues to build those relationships,” explains RLI faculty Melissa A. Davis, MD, MBA, assistant professor and medical director of quality in radiology at Emory University.

Many RLI programs emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence, but the sooner a radiologist can gain that competency, the better. “When you’re in an early career stage, leveraging emotional intelligence can help you figure out what’s happening around you,” Davis notes. “Every health system and practice has its own personality and ways to get things done. Spend some time learning how to be effective wherever you work . Emotional intelligence allows you to learn how to be effective wherever you work.”

Gaining Essential and Practical Resources

The RLI maxim that “leadership is for everyone” guides the state-of-the-art program offerings that target radiologists at all career levels. The RLI team keeps a close eye on current and emerging challenges and regularly develops new programs to address any deficits or gaps that arise.

The RLI strives to be a lifelong resource for personal and professional development and provide a relevant and flexible educational experience that benefits radiologists at all levels of their career — from residents and fellows to executive-level leaders.

In modern healthcare, no one knows what the future holds — but taking steps to shore up your team’s operations and adapt your leadership approach to new practice demands is the surest path to future practice sustainability. That’s where the annual RLI Summit comes in. Designed in collaboration with business school experts, the Summit helps radiologists at all career stages gain new insight into where radiology is headed and receive focused training that will help guide how their practices adapt in the future. Equally important, it provides radiologists with an unparalleled opportunity to network with the specialty’s best and brightest.

Subject matter experts apply a radiology lens to the latest business models and tools to help attendees learn how to improve both patient care and the practice of radiology. The sessions are created to give radiologists a deeper understanding of some of the biggest issues facing the specialty and offer insights and solutions to transform challenges into opportunities.

“The RLI Summit is critical because of the speed and size of change we are facing,” says attendee Joseph D. Calandra, MD, FACR, former clinical professor of radiology at the University of Illinois. “As radiologists, we need to get this kind of out-of-the-box leadership training so that we can get more involved and try to influence everything that’s happening in the world around us.”

Radiologists can also learn important leadership and business skills from the RLI Power Hour Webinar Series, bi-monthly webinars that provide expert analysis, tips, and information on radiology’s most pressing leadership and healthcare topics. Aimed at radiologists of all career stages, each webinar is supported by data and practical tools that participants can use to promote better team workflow and improved service quality. Webinar topics have included presentations on quality improvement, mergers and consolidations, crisis management, health equity, and more.

For radiologists assuming or aspiring to their first leadership role, the RLI offers the Maximize Your Influence and Impact course. Participants learn critical skills to help with building a thriving practice and driving foundational change within a healthcare organization, as well as soft skills including team building and conflict management. This virtual program teaches participants how to align radiology with the hospital boardroom to better steward the organization’s operations, finances, and relationships. “I’ll never forget walking into my first meeting with other health system leaders and being completely lost in the spreadsheets, data, politics, and relationships,” recalls Geoffrey D. Rubin, MD, MBA, FACR, professor and chair of the department of medical imaging at the University of Arizona. “The Maximize courses aim to help radiologists hold their own in the hospital boardroom and collaborate with their peers in other departments.”

Underscoring the importance of teams, the annual ACR-RBMA Practice Leaders Forum is a collaboration with the ACR’s RLI and the Radiology Business Management Association that brings together clinical leaders and practice leaders to discuss the critical issues facing their practices. Attendees come together in a highly collaborative environment to discuss today’s most critical practice management topics. In a hands-on learning environment, attendees discover practical solutions to boost practice performance, align business operations with new healthcare models, and promote a value-based mindset within their teams. Above all else, participants gain real-world solutions that they can take back to their practices and apply to make an immediate impact. According to Howard B. Fleishon, MD, MMM, FACR, chair of the ACR BOC, the RLI’s success over the past decade can be attributed to providing innovative and relevant learning opportunities for radiologists to develop, lead, and succeed in radiologist-led teams. “The business of radiology is complex,” says Fleishon. “While our medical training focuses on image interpretation and interventional skills, the RLI gives radiologists the tools to lead across the entire medical imaging delivery paradigm.”

Author Meredith Kleeman,  Freelance Writer, ACR Press