Thought leadership

Medical Director Role Clarity

Medical Director Role Clarity

In recent client surveys and a series of focus groups with the American Association for Physician Leadership (, effective Medical Directorships have been identified as essential to the success of health systems. A lack of role clarity, however, is the single most important factor frustrating the effectiveness of these medical directors.

The argument to invest further in meaningful medical director roles is driven by these observations:

  • Medical Directors shape the roadmap needed for The Journey into the uncharted waters of population health, value-based contracting, and accountable care.
  • Medical Directors amplify the voice of front line providers to C-Suite and board leaders regarding progress in The Journey, as well as possible needs for mid-course contingency plans.
  • Medical Directors enhance two-way communications with providers and system leaders regarding the scope, rationale, and value of strategic moves to optimize care quality, patient experience, employee morale, compliance with service line care protocols, and initiatives to reduce program costs and enhance efficiency.

Five factors are critical to walk the talk of Medical Director role clarity that is captured in written position descriptions and posted on 24/7 web portals for medical director reference and development: (see Guide co-produced by Gallagher and AAPL here). (use link to paper)

  1. Clear Strategic Framework: The work of medical directors must be seen as central to accomplishing the strategic plans of the enterprise. There must therefore be a line of sight link between the plan’s imperatives and the role of each medical director.
  2. Balanced Scorecard Lens: Medical Directors are increasingly expected to play “utility infielder” roles that balance input and engagement to ensure results in these key spheres of performance:
    • Quality champion
    • Care pathway development
    • Service line marketing and economic vitality
    • Culture that reduces provider burnout
    • Finding and reducing provider bad behavior
    • Optimizing provider communications
    • Change management
    • System brand enhancement
  3. Dyad Relationships: The part-time nature, and relatively modest prior leadership experiences call for effective competencies for trust building and collaborative working relationships with administrative dyad partners.
  4. Hard and Soft Competencies: Position descriptions need not only role clarity, but the competencies needed to accomplish these duties. Intentional development and ongoing nurturing of these competencies are essential. Hard leadership competencies like budgeting and project management must be balanced with soft competencies like visioning, team building, appreciative listening and interpersonal relationship building. (see:
  5. Performance Management: It is not enough to have clear position descriptions if the medical director’s dyad partner or supervisor never look at it, or do not prepare an annual work plan for accomplishing the role. The effectiveness of Medical Directors is also a direct result of their smart participation in annual performance reviews and plans. Physician services offices need enhanced collaboration with the system’s talent management and HR staff.


William F. Jessee

William F. Jessee, MD, FACMPE joined Integrated Healthcare Strategies, now a part of the Gallagher Human Resources & Compensation Consulting practice in October, 2011, after serving for more than 12 years as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). He also holds an academic appointment as Clinical Professor of Health Systems Management and Policy at the University of Colorado School of Public Health.

Dr. Jessee is one of the nation’s leading ...

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James A. Rice

Jim Rice, PhD, FACHE is the Managing Director & Practice Leader with the Governance & Leadership service line of Gallagher’s Human Resources & Compensation Consulting practice. He focuses his consulting work on strategic governance structures and systems for high performing, tax-exempt nonprofit, credit union and health sector organizations and integrated care systems; visioning for large and small not-for-profit organizations; and leadership development for Boards and C-Suite Senior Leaders. 

Dr. Rice holds masters and doctoral degrees in ...

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