The resident physician as leader within the healthcare team: An exploratory inquiry into the perspectives of interprofessional clinicians

Lyn Kathryn Sonnenberg, Lesley Pritchard-Wiart, Jamiu Busari*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Web of Science)


Purpose The purpose of this study was to explore inter-professional clinicians' perspectives on resident leadership in the context of inter-professional teams and to identify a definition for leadership in the clinical context. In 2015, CanMEDS changed the title of one of the core competencies from manager to leader. The shift in language was perceived by some as returning to traditional hierarchical and physician-dominant structures. The resulting uncertainty has resulted in a call to action to not only determine what physician leadership is but to also determine how to teach and assess it. Design/methodology/approach Focus groups and follow-up individual interviews were conducted with 23 inter-professional clinicians from three pediatric clinical service teams at a large, Canadian tertiary-level rehabilitation hospital. Qualitative thematic analysis was used to inductively analyze the data. Findings Data analysis resulted in one overarching theme: leadership is collaborative - and three related subthemes: leadership is shared; leadership is summative; and conceptualizations of leadership are shifting. Research limitations/implications Not all members of the three inter-professional teams were able to attend the focus group sessions because of scheduling conflicts. Participation of additional clinicians could have, therefore, affected the results of this study. The study was conducted locally at a single rehabilitation hospital, among Canadian pediatric clinicians, which highlights the need to explore conceptualization of leadership across different contexts. Practical implications There is an evident need to prepare physicians to be leaders in both their daily clinical and academic practices. Therefore, more concerted efforts are required to develop leadership skills among residents. The authors postulate that continued integration of various inter-professional disciplines during the early phases of training is essential to foster collaborative leadership and trust. Originality/value The results of this study suggest that inter-professional clinicians view clinical leadership as collaborative and fluid and determined by the fit between tasks and team member expertise. Mentorship is important for increasing the ability of resident physicians to develop collaborative leadership roles within teams. The authors propose a collaborative definition of clinical leadership based on the results of this study: a shared responsibility that involves facilitation of dialog; the integration of perspectives and expertise; and collaborative planning for the purpose of exceptional patient care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-182
Number of pages16
JournalLeadership in Health Services
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Health care
  • Leadership
  • Interprofessional
  • Teams
  • Medical education
  • Residents

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