Linking leadership development programs for physicians with organization-level outcomes: a realist review

Maarten Debets*, Iris Jansen, Kiki Lombarts, Wietske Kuijer-Siebelink, Karen Kruijthof, Yvonne Steinert, Joost Daams, Milou Silkens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Hospitals invest in Leadership Development Programs (LDPs) for physicians, assuming they benefit the organization’s performance. Researchers have listed the advantages of LDPs, but knowledge of how and why organization-level outcomes are achieved is missing. Objective: To investigate how, why and under which circumstances LDPs for physicians can impact organization-level outcomes. Methods: We conducted a realist review, following the RAMESES guidelines. Scientific articles and grey literature published between January 2010 and March 2021 evaluating a leadership intervention for physicians in the hospital setting were considered for inclusion. The following databases were searched: Medline, PsycInfo, ERIC, Web of Science, and Academic Search Premier. Based on the included documents, we developed a LDP middle-range program theory (MRPT) consisting of Context-Mechanism-Outcome configurations (CMOs) describing how specific contexts (C) trigger certain mechanisms (M) to generate organization-level outcomes (O). Results: In total, 3904 titles and abstracts and, subsequently, 100 full-text documents were inspected; 38 documents with LDPs from multiple countries informed our MRPT. The MRPT includes five CMOs that describe how LDPs can impact the organization-level outcomes categories ‘culture’, ‘quality improvement’, and ‘the leadership pipeline’: 'Acquiring self-insight and people skills (CMO1)', 'Intentionally building professional networks (CMO2)', 'Supporting quality improvement projects (CMO3)', 'Tailored LDP content prepares physicians (CMO4)', and 'Valuing physician leaders and organizational commitment (CMO5)'. Culture was the outcome of CMO1 and CMO2, quality improvement of CMO2 and CMO3, and the leadership pipeline of CMO2, CMO4, and CMO5. These CMOs operated within an overarching context, the leadership ecosystem, that determined realizing and sustaining organization-level outcomes. Conclusions: LDPs benefit organization-level outcomes through multiple mechanisms. Creating the contexts to trigger these mechanisms depends on the resources invested in LDPs and adequately supporting physicians. LDP providers can use the presented MRPT to guide the development of LDPs when aiming for specific organization-level outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number783
JournalBmc Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2023

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