In a first of its kind, the establishment of the Australasian College of Physician Executives (ACPE) means that Australia now has a dedicated professional body to support medically-trained professionals who pursue careers outside the confines of traditional clinical practice. The formation of the College came in response to a need to support individual physician executives and raise the standing of this unique profession in the broader community.

Valuable role played

According to Dr Deon Gouws, founder and managing director, “Physician executives play an important role in the advancement of health and commerce outside a traditional healthcare setting. Blending both medical training and commercial acumen, physician executives provide both a breadth of vision and a depth of understanding of how healthcare can intersect with commercial enterprise. This is a relatively new career option for medically-trained professionals and is essential for the broader healthcare economy,” Dr Gouws said.

“The traditional perspective is that medicine and business should not mix – the one pursuing a humanitarian objective, the other focused on profit. Even in modern times, some may object to the notion of profiting from someone else’s health (or lack thereof). In some circles, doctors who leave clinical practice to pursue commercial careers are shunned by their peers as ‘not good enough to survive in clinical medicine’. However, commercial acumen and medical expertise should not be seen as mutually exclusive. In fact, one may argue that there has never been a more urgent need for medical professionals to participate and shape the healthcare and business intersect. If anything, we need more doctors to pursue careers as physician executives,” he said.

Attitudes must change

The ACPE will play a fundamental role in highlighting the enormous contributions of medically trained professionals working outside the boundaries of traditional medicine.

“For some in the physician executive community the establishment of the College will come as a surprise because for many of them the journey has been a lonely one,” Dr Gouws said. They have had to chart their own course through the transition from clinical medicine to commercial enterprise on their own steam.”

Physician executives work in a diverse range of commercial roles within pharmaceutical organisations; hospital and healthcare facilities; entrepreneurial ventures and insurance companies to name a few. In addition they may work in less well-known fields such as banking, actuarial sciences, economics or the politics and policy sphere.

“Until now there was no peak professional body to cater to the specific professional development requirements of this unique subset of medically trained  professionals,” he said. The ACPE is unique in that although its members may share common interest, skills or knowledge, the areas in which they employ those attributes may vary significantly. The ACPE is defined by a commonality of interest and aptitude to seek healthcare careers outside of traditional clinical medicine. Unlike other Colleges, our members cannot be adequately grouped under a single heading such as surgeons, dermatologists or administrators. Whilst there may be some overlap, they are also managers, directors, chairman, owners, entrepreneurs, vice-presidents and the like.”

“Our members are business people who have medical training. Their activities may or may not be related to a healthcare-specific role. For example, a physician executive employed in the insurance industry to review medical claims and risks, has very little to do with what happens in a hospital or a clinical practice. Nonetheless, their clinical background provides the critical context necessary for the role.”

“Both the healthcare and broader economy will benefit from greater recognition and more formalised training for clinicians who pursue executive careers. If I can achieve one thing through the ACPE, it would be the formal recognition of the role that clinicians play within the corporate or commercial sectors, to further the interests of healthcare,” Dr Gouws said.

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