On September 5th, 2017, Dr. Jerome Adams was sworn in as the 20th Surgeon General of the United States, marking an important moment in the movement for anesthesia clinicians as emerging prominent leaders in the U.S.
Dr. Adams’ career trajectory is an essential combination of academic prestige, private and public sector experience, and emerging leadership roles. Dr. Adams received his medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine and Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley. Although he began in private practice, Dr. Adams swiftly moved into academia and public service, working as an Assistant Professor at his alma mater while writing frequently on topics pertinent to the pain management field. Dr. Adams then received his first major leadership role when he was nominated as the Indiana State Health Commissioner, setting the stage for his future nomination to the national stage. In his role as Surgeon General, Dr. Adams represents the first anesthesiologist to hold the position, which in the past has taken candidates from a pool of pediatricians, internists, and registered nurses (RNs). Dr. Adams has publicly stated that with this new leadership position, he aims to focus on issues that sit at the center of his specialty and U.S. healthcare needs, e.g. the national opioid crisis. As a leading national expert on substance abuse, and a practicing physician, Dr. Adams holds an impressive wealth of knowledge that will serve him well as the new acting Surgeon General.
Surgeon General is merely one of the leadership roles that physicians, and increasingly anesthesiologists, are aiming to occupy. CEOs of hospital networks, heads of anesthesia management companies, medical leads at insurance companies…The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to clinician executive leadership, and anesthesiology-related professionals have a high chance of capturing these opportunities.
To begin, anesthesia professionals, such as anesthesiologists and CRNAs, have extensive experience in participating and managing complex teams. As Thomas H. Lee, M.D., writes in the Harvard Business Review, “More often, institutional leaders must move groups …to bring physicians from different disciplines but the same patient population closer to one another.”  In this regard, anesthesiologists and CRNAs have a built-in advantage towards leading effective team alignment strategies: As anesthesiology-based clinicians must routinely work with an array of physicians and nurses from other departments to provide holistic care, they understand the process and purpose of non-siloed management. This enhances the capability for strong leadership in a complex healthcare setting, both on the clinical and business side of organizational management.
Moreover, the need for physicians in healthcare-centered executive roles is rising, paving the way for anesthesiologists and CRNAs to acquire new opportunities in leadership. In 2011, a study was released in Social Science and Medicine citing that quality scores were approximately 25 percent higher in hospitals with physician CEOs as compared to hospitals led by non-clinical managers. Therefore, the literature supports the hypothesis that physician executive leaders can produce better outcomes for the facility and for patients themselves.
While Dr. Adams is but one of many physician executive leaders, his distinct skill set as an anesthesiologist and public health leader have distinguished him as a unique leader in the field. Armed with a background in team management, anesthesiology clinicians are well-poised to follow his example and begin the ascent to leadership — at the local, hospital-wide, and even national level.