Almost all clinicians will take on leadership responsibilities during their career, yet most of their training focuses on patient care rather than building leadership skills. To fill this gap, the Wake Forest Interprofessional Leaders in Health Care (ILHC) program helps students identify their personal leadership and communication styles and build the confidence and esteem they will need as practicing clinicians.
Roy E. Strowd "Teaching this is difficult, but we do it by focusing on character development and how to lead from within as a strong moral professional and ethics-driven person." - Roy Strowd, MD 

The program, now in its fifth year, serves about 30 medical, physician assistant and nurse anesthesia students at Wake Forest University School of Medicine each year.

“Patients tend to resonate with health care providers who are not only great professionals but are also outstanding people,” said Roy Strowd, MD, founder and director of the ILHC program.

Leading through advocacy

A group of people listening to a lecturer at a conference

Four workshops, each focused on a different aspect of leadership, comprise the heart of the program.

“During the workshops, we discuss interprofessional teams and collaborative care, as well as leading policy as an advocate, whether it be at state or federal levels or within the institution in which they practice,” said Strowd. “Building these leadership skills has an important impact on the care these clinicians will provide, legislation that they might help push forward and how they train future generations of health professionals.”

Fourth-year medical student George Hafzalla, who participated in the program, points out that as medicine has become more specialized, the health care system has become increasingly complex, with numerous providers directing care for the same patients.

"The ILHCI program showed me how different approaches and strategies can shape successful leaders with varying types of personalities,” said Hafzalla.

"I also learned that being an interprofessional leader means collaborating with other leaders to address challenging problems with equally thoughtful and pragmatic solutions." - George Hafzalla, MD student  George Hafzalla

Expanding across the state

Three years ago, Strowd received a grant from the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society to translate the Wake Forest program into one that would benefit health professional trainees across North Carolina. He partnered with Kristina Natt och Dag from, the North Carolina Medical Society (NCMS), to develop the NCMS and Kanof Institute for Physician Leadership Future Clinician Leaders College (FCLC).

FCLC is open to students from North Carolina institutions who are training in a wide variety of health professions, including medicine, physician assistants, advanced practice nursing, physical and occupational therapy and dentistry.

“Bringing health care trainees together in an interprofessional, multi-institution setting that focuses on leadership, advocacy, communication, education and teamwork is vital to developing the type of leaders who will continue to keep North Carolina at the forefront of health care training and delivery,” said Natt och Dag. “Building a leader identity and understanding individual purpose as a leader in the health care profession also builds resilience and helps reduce unhealthy stress.”

Laura Okolie "I am grateful for the opportunity to encourage and challenge future clinician leaders to help foster the change our health care system so desperately needs, especially when working with underserved, marginalized and minority populations. The FCLC has been a pivotal part of my leadership development journey.” - Laura Okolie, PA-C

Laura Okolie was part of the program’s inaugural class while training to be a physician assistant at Duke University. She now works as a family medicine PA at Vance Family Medicine in Henderson, North Carolina, and says that the FCLC experience has been especially helpful to her work on the practice’s interprofessional quality metrics and improvement committee.

After graduating, Okolie was invited to facilitate the FCLC Leading in Society session, which addresses racism in medicine and how to lead change in society through knowledge, critical thinking and understanding.