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First and foremost, physicians: the clinical versus leadership identities of physician leaders

Joann Farrell Quinn (Office of Educational Affairs, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, Florida, USA)
Sheri Perelli (Mike Ilitch School of Business, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 20 June 2016




Physicians are commonly promoted into administrative and managerial roles in US hospitals on the basis of clinical expertise and often lack the skills, training or inclination to lead. Several studies have sought to identify factors associated with effective physician leadership, yet we know little about how physician leaders themselves construe their roles. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


Phenomenological interviews were performed with 25 physicians at three organizational levels with physicians affiliated or employed by four hospitals within one health care organization in the USA between August and September 2010. A rigorous comparative methodology of data collection and analysis was employed, including the construction of analytic codes for the data and its categorization based on emergent ideas and themes that are not preconceived and logically deduced hypotheses, which is characteristic of grounded theory.


These interviews reveal differences in how part- vs full-time physician leaders understand and value leadership roles vs clinical roles, claim leadership status, and identify as physician leaders on individual, relational and organizational basis.

Research limitations/implications

Although the physicians in the sample were affiliated with four community hospitals, all of them were part of a single not-for-profit health care system in one geographical locale.

Practical implications

These findings may be of interest to hospital administrators and boards seeking deeper commitment and higher performance from physician leaders, as well as assist physicians in transitioning into a leadership role.

Social implications

This work points to a broader and more fundamental need – a modified mindset about the nature and value of physician leadership.


This study is unique in the exploration of the nature of physician leadership from the perspective of the physician on an individual, peer and organizational level in the creation of their own leadership identity.



Quinn, J.F. and Perelli, S. (2016), "First and foremost, physicians: the clinical versus leadership identities of physician leaders", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 711-728.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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