Top 5 Skills Physicians Need in a Post-Pandemic Landscape

Medical Director shares attributes that will help providers thrive in the years ahead.


The pandemic disrupted every aspect of healthcare, and it promises to reshape the future of physicians and advanced practice clinicians (APCs) for years to come. In this new reality, what skills do providers need to adapt and be successful? How can they achieve both job satisfaction and personal fulfillment, all while avoiding burnout?

To answer these questions, we talked with Dr. Ankur Rana, Executive Medical Director of Primary Care for Swedish Medical Group in Seattle, Washington. Swedish Medical Group’s Primary Care department employs 200-plus Primary Care physicians at more than 30 clinics across the Puget Sound area.

The son of a surgeon and a nurse/midwife, Dr. Rana is a family physician by training and has his Master’s degree in medical management from University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He is also an Executive Medical Director for Swedish Family Medicine Residencies, speaks five languages and says he approaches his position with a servant leadership style.

Provider Solutions & Development’s Sheila Sampatacos originally recruited Dr. Rana as Swedish’s regional medical director, and when the executive medical director position opened up, she encouraged him to apply.

“I just knew Dr. Rana would be amazing in this role,” Sheila says. “He has such a heart for providers, and I knew he would be really effective in this position.”

Dr. Rana says he is grateful for Sheila’s career guidance.

“I wanted to be more impactful in my leadership role, and I felt blessed to make the move from regional to executive medical director,” he says. “Sheila was instrumental throughout the process. She understood how passionate I am about helping physicians succeed and feel supported, and she really advocated for me.”

Dr. Rana says in his new role, he strategizes daily about how both health systems and providers alike need to adapt and transform. PS&D asked Dr. Rana to share what he considers to be the top 5 skills that will help physicians and APCs thrive in today’s rapidly evolving environment.

Dr. Ankur Rana’s Insights for Physicians Navigating New Post-Pandemic World

1. An open mind, competence and comfort around technology and digital health.

Technology, and digital health in general, clearly is a disruptor that has come to the forefront because of COVID. Adoption of these technologies has been incredibly high the last two years. Going forward, the most high-functioning, visionary organizations will look at scaling their digital capabilities, whether it is telemedicine, e-consults, e-visits, or remote patient-monitoring. We are going to see health systems using app-based navigators to identify what the patient is seeking care for and leading the patient to the right front door, whether that is digital or in person.

Now, the key for the physician will be a mindset-shift from thinking medicine can only be practiced face-to-face. One of the biggest roadblocks is when a physician says, “In my specialty, I cannot see a patient virtually! I must see them in person.” But when COVID came, that option was not there. The brick-and-mortar was closed, and everyone had to adopt virtual methods. Doctors realized they can provide care via telemedicine, and they also started to creatively think about that.

The most successful physicians in this changing healthcare climate will be the ones who, instead of saying, “No, I can’t do that,” will say, “What can I do?” They will have an open-minded approach. That is what we have been asking our physicians at Swedish: How can you adapt your practice? Think about visit types within your scope where you can pivot and meet your patients where they need you. An open-minded approach to adopt a culture of YES. And if you have patients who remain skeptical, how can you help them adapt to the technology? Becoming efficient at using the electronic medical records (EMR) is another key. As you join an organization, invest time in learning what the EMR can do for you and how to best utilize it.

“The most successful physicians in this new climate will be the ones who, instead of saying, ‘No, I can’t do that,’ will say, ‘What can I do?’ They will have an open-minded approach.”

Dr. Ankur Rana, Swedish Executive Medical Director

2. A questioning, creative and innovative approach.

We are all in a process of unlearning from the past and learning from what is new to create a better future. Our younger patients are demanding this – that we have that mindset of creativity and innovation. Another reality is that some of our patients are not looking at a relationship with their provider as something they want to necessarily have or something they honor as much as people did in previous generations.

For young families and the fast-paced day-to-day, it is about convenience. If I can shop at Amazon and get everything delivered, I can shop online for healthcare and get medications delivered. In COVID times, our elderly population has felt the most vulnerable, the most uncomfortable. And yet even they have realized, this is doable.

Physicians need to look at the patient’s journey through the patient’s lens, particularly around access and navigation. What are visit types where the provider does not need to see the patient personally? Can they be seen using protocol-based nursing visit? Where can I leverage my care team? Can my APC see them, so I can open my schedule to see patients who need to see me personally? How do I break silos with my specialty partners? Let’s get creative! With no-shows and missed appointments, if you have an efficient telemedicine portal, you can quickly contact them and say, “I was expecting you at this time. Would you like to get on video right now? I can still see you!”

How can you be creative around panel management? Given the national trend of the shift from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, it will be important for physicians to take on the role of panel stewardship. We have this belief it is not within physician scope to do outreach, but I would ask, why are we still stuck in that mindset? Let’s say I identify a group of 100 disengaged patients in my panel, just as an example. Why can’t I call them and say, “Hi, this is Dr. Rana. I have not seen you for two years. How are you doing? How is your blood pressure or how are your blood sugars? Would you like to come in?”

I did a trial of this to see if it would work at my last job, and I had my team of physicians do this. The conversion rates were phenomenal. And the patients loved it! Suddenly their doctor was trying to take the extra step to be there and help. The commonality among all these things is to think innovatively about solutions and not accept that the way things have always been done is going to continue to work. Organizations will have to adopt new ways of thinking about physicians’ patient-facing hours so these initiatives can be successful within a value-based care model.

3. A willingness to lead in the face of challenges and adversity.

As we continue to deal with this pandemic in all its phases, a willingness to lead is extremely important, especially to help those who are burned out. Patient calls right now are a major pain point, along with MyChart messages, sometimes 30 to 40 a day. Medication refills. The in-basket burden is an enormous contributor to burnout.

Be that leader who can further engage your care team and make their work efficient. Identify ways to engage your APCs and your care team. If these messages are filtered, prepped, and scrubbed prior to coming to the physicians, their lives become much easier. This streamlines care and keeps your team intact and engaged. Ask yourself, how do I leverage the systems in place — the pharmacists who can help me or the integrated Behavioral Health system?

Providers are at the forefront. If you will not lead, who will? If you will not be the voice, things will not improve. Think about how you can make your organization resource-rich for your team and panel. With this analysis comes responsibility – you will need to lead that effort. Learn modern technology, facilitate changes, be willing to be the first one to try something, then train your team. This is the only way we make things better.

4. A flexible and adaptable attitude around change.

Accepting ambiguity and being flexible are important attributes for today’s doctors and future physicians. One way to further frame that is, we were used to a default culture of practice of medicine, a default future, and now we are being pushed to adapt to an invented future. COVID prompted this and is accelerating everything. We need to be nimble enough to adapt to the changes so we can all have a hand in defining that invented future, whether it is the transformation of care-delivery models, new and innovative methods, a shift from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, or the renewal of an organization’s financial health.

A physician has historically held this captain of the ship role, and you can still be the captain but with a mindset shift that you have a team you need to be influencing rather than always practicing your autonomy. That is where adaptability comes in team-based care.

How do you build that muscle? Look at the word “change.” If you switch that letter “g” to “c” you have “chance.” Successful physicians will see opportunity in change. Empathetic listening is key. You are there to listen and validate. When that happens, you frame the change from a provider’s viewpoint. The change is often the same as the pain points frontline clinicians/caregivers are facing. If you bring that change to them and say, this is what we are going to do, it will not go over well. But if you rephrase it to speak to their pain point, they will feel heard, and adoption of the change will go much better.

5. A commitment to work-life balance, wellness and prioritizing mental health.

In this post-pandemic reality, work-life balance, taking care of your mental health and practicing wellness are no longer nice-to-haves. They are imperative now. Physicians must have an intentional revisiting of what their ideal practice looks like. That is defined by who you are and where you are in the stage of your life, and your career in general.

Let’s say you are a resident just graduating and you are single, with the energy, time, and appetite to do a lot more. You can and should use that opportunity to gain experience and learn. Let’s say you have a young family you are raising. You will need to ask yourself, is it right for me to practice out-patient and in-patient and deliver babies? If you have a mentor who is a senior person, they will tell you the culture used to be different. When they began their career, 75% of their time was spent working, working, working.

Nowadays, it is OK to give your well-being priority, and at the end of the day, that will promote longevity. Be intentional in taking personal time, be intentional in taking “me time”. Be intentional in enjoying your hobbies and exploring new ones. Take time for mindfulness practices. Remember to take breaks for reflection.

A burned-out provider is no good to anybody. Identify a lifestyle you can support. Speak up if you are not happy. Establish that kind of relationship with your immediate leader. I like to refer to it as work-life choice. It is not work-life balance. It is your choice, and you need to define it.

PS&D Can Help in Your Search for Balance and Fulfillment

Has Dr. Rana inspired you to think about your career in a new way? If you’re considering a change, our recruiters are here for you. We get to know who you are, so we can find a role where you’ll be happy, both on and off the job.

Tell us your why, we’ll find your where.

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