Some people are born to lead, and some have leading thrust upon them. Dr   Jennifer Moore puts herself in the latter category.

In the past, she hadn’t really sought out roles on boards, but sooner or later, she’d found it was her turn to serve. Dr Moore became the board’s treasurer after Burnaby formed its division in 2011. She soon decided that it would be a good idea to find out how the job is properly done.

“Clearly, we were going to be soon juggling multiple budgets and multiple sources,” says Dr Moore, who had previously sat on the boards of small non-profits. “I think all too often, physicians are in positions where we’re not connected to the budget. We sit on committees, we’re asked to do this or that, but it’s not necessarily connected to any of the direct funding sources.” 

She wanted to see whether her approach represented “good stewardship.” So in 2015, she enrolled in The GPSC Leadership and Management Development Program at SFU, and became a member of its sixth cohort.

“I wasn’t 100% sure of how a board should function, and what its role should be. Even though we had written terms of reference and governance issues and things, this was really all new terminology to me.”

Working on committees and at hospitals, she pointed out, tends to be a “reactive” way of managing health care, rather than “being at the helm and going forward and trying to make those kinds of decisions about where we should go.”

For Dr Moore, the five-module GPSC program was particularly helpful when it came to the module called Strategic Leadership and the Responsibility of Governance. In part, that’s because it showed her the importance of having an overall strategy in place rather than simply forming a plan around what was already happening.

A strategy, she says, “allows you to be in a position to say ‘These were our goals and strategy for this year, so these are the kinds of projects that fit with that.’”

Dr Moore says the Burnaby board, for instance, fields many requests from committees and organizations that would like to make use of its members, and the information the division has collected and assembled, in various ways. Having a strategy gives the board a way to determine which requests to accept, and which to decline.

Most of the strategy examples the participants in the course studied came from the business world, rather than health care, but they were still valuable, says Dr  Moore. For example, the instructors talked about the Blue Ocean strategy versus the Red Ocean.

“The Red Ocean is where you keep doing the same thing, but you kind-of modify it, rather than saying ‘You know what? That whole strategy isn’t working. We need a better strategy.’ Blue Ocean is more thinking outside the box. You’re making a widget, and you’re not making enough widgets, and you’re saying ‘Well, if I run the thing more hours, will I make more widgets?’ Versus trying to say ‘I’d like to be more productive. Maybe what we really need to do is have a second or a third line or maybe break it down because there’s one part along the way where we’re getting bottlenecked and we need to figure out how to be creative and get around that bottleneck.’”

Dr Moore hopes the course will make her a better leader. Reflecting on past board experiences, she sees how she might have handled them more productively. She now knows, for instance, that as board chair, her own opinion should be delivered last, no matter how time-pressed she might feel.

She says the positive aspects of getting physicians together as a cohort should also not be underrated. One participant in the course told Dr Moore wistfully that if she’d received the kind of support the program provided earlier in her career, she might not be closing her practice now.  This colleague said, “There are other people out there who think and ask the same questions as I do, but I hadn’t found them until I came to this course.”

Leadership will become increasingly crucial for physicians, Dr Moore believes. In the future, GPs will likely be working in groups rather than having private practices, she says. That means they’ll have to work together to manage their office – another realm in which most have little training, and for which the leadership course offers a way forward.

To learn more about the program, visit www.pspbc.ca.