Is postgraduate leadership education a match for the wicked problems of health systems leadership? A critical systematic review

Betty Onyura
David Tannenbaum
Mary Kay Whittaker
Risa Freeman
Sara Crann
Stuart Murdoch
Soort article
Leadership development,
Postgraduate education,
Wicked problems,
Verscheen in

Purpose There have been a growing number of leadership education programs for physicians. However, debates about the value and efficacy of leadership education in medicine persist, and there are calls for systematic and critical perspectives on medical leadership development. Here, we review evidence on postgraduate leadership education and discuss findings in relation to contemporary evidence on leadership education and practice.

Method We searched multiple databases for papers on postgraduate leadership development programs, published in English between 2007 and 2017. We identified 4,691 papers; 31 papers met the full inclusion criteria. Data regarding curricular content and design, learner demographics, instructional methods, and learning outcomes were abstracted and synthesized.

Results There was modest evidence for effectiveness of programs in influencing knowledge and skills gains in select domains. However, the conceptual underpinnings of the ‘leadership’ training delivered were often unclear. Contemporary theory and evidence on leadership practice was not widely incorporated in program design. Programs were almost exclusively uni-professional, focused on discrete skill development, and did not address systems-level leadership issues. Broader leadership capacity building strategies were underutilized. A new wave of longitudinal, integrated clinical and leadership programming is observed.

Conclusions Our findings raise questions about persistent preparation-practice gaps in leadership education in medicine. Leadership education needs to evolve to incorporate broader collective capacity building, as well as evidence-informed strategies for leadership development. Barriers to educational reform need to be identified and addressed as educators work to re-orientate education programs to better prepare budding physician leaders for the challenges of health system leadership.


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