• Physician Leadership

    If you already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, taking on the responsibilities of organizational leadership may sound like just one more demand on your time and energy. But some family physicians have found that they benefit personally and professionally from taking on leadership roles. Yushu Jack Chou, MD, FAAFP, is one such physician. For Chou, embracing opportunities to serve as a physician leader has reignited his passion for family medicine.

    “Look at the big picture if you are discouraged,” Chou says. “The lifespan of a career in family medicine is long. You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to trudge along or make an effective change?’”

    Chou’s enthusiasm for leadership opportunities isn’t just lip service. He served on the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Board of Directors from 2013–2016 and has served on numerous AAFP commissions and committees, including the Commission on Quality and Practice and the Commission on Membership and Member Services. He has also held leadership positions with the California Academy of Family Physicians, the Los Angeles Academy of Family Physicians, and the California Medical Association. Currently, he chairs a number of committees for Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, California, and supervises 24 family physicians. Chou estimates that in the past four years, his leadership has affected the careers of nearly 1,000 physicians. 

    In Chou’s view, family physicians are well suited for leadership roles because they solve problems and provide guidance to their patients every day. The AAFP’s policy on leadership development notes that family physicians’ training emphasizes communication skills, interdisciplinary teamwork, and systems-based approaches, all of which are valuable assets for a leader. Chou also feels that it’s important for physicians to be mindful of their responsibility to shape the health and welfare of their communities, as well as to advocate for health care solutions at local, state, national, and even international levels. Stepping into a leadership role—whether full-time, part-time, or on the side—can help fulfill that mission, giving you a chance to make a meaningful difference.

    Chou’s willingness to embrace leadership roles has also had a positive impact on his practice. For example, he recounts a time when he led his group’s effort to improve the use of their electronic health record (EHR) system and customize workflow. Other physicians in the practice learned from his group and benefited from following their lead.  

    Quick Tips

    Want to become an organizational leader? Remember this advice:

    • Hone your leadership skills.
    • Be present and get involved.
    • Network with other leaders.
    • Know your limits and don’t be afraid to say no.
    • Set realistic goals.
    • Empower others.

    Based on his experiences, Chou offers the following advice for aspiring physician leaders:

    • Hone your leadership skills. The annual AAFP Leadership Conference for Current and Aspiring Leaders is one option for AAFP members who want to sharpen their leadership and policy development skills and network with their peers.
    • Be present and get involved. Make it a priority to attend events hosted by organizations that interest you. If you want to get involved with the AAFP, start by contacting your local chapter. Many chapters are looking for leaders just like you.
    • Network with other leaders. Making personal connections can open doors to leadership opportunities. Remember that people won’t know what issues you are passionate about or what skills you bring to a leadership role unless you tell them.
    • Know your limits and don’t be afraid to say no. Even if you’re eager to gain leadership experience, you can’t seize every opportunity. Be mindful of the demands of your personal and professional life, and guard your well-being. It’s OK to be selective about the leadership roles and responsibilities you accept.
    • Set realistic goals. Follow the same advice you give to your patients by starting with small, achievable goals and building your leadership experience incrementally.
    • Empower others. Part of being an effective leader is inspiring and motivating those around you. A good leader looks for ways to empower people to reach their potential.


    Five Steps for Building Your Leadership Skills (Family Practice Management, September-October 2014)
    Physician Leadership Lessons from the Business World (Family Practice Management, November-December 2016)

    Written by AAFP editorial staff.

    Yushu Jack Chou, MD, FAAFP, is a partner at Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California Permanente Medical Group in Los Angeles, California. Chou served on the AAFP Board of Directors from 2013 to 2016.