Physician Leadership: Learning from Dr. Bill Cavers, President of Doctors of BC

Alvin Ip

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Healthcare in the twenty–first century is rapidly changing. As important contributors on the front lines of patient care, physicians are uniquely positioned to influence change and improve the delivery of healthcare. However, more physicians are also assuming leadership and management roles within hospitals and other healthcare organizations. A study published in Social Science and Medicine found that top–performing hospitals, with higher scores in healthcare delivery and outcomes, were more likely to be led by a physician Chief Executive Officer.[1] Therefore, physician leadership is becoming an important and relevant topic to medical students. So, as medical students, are we ready to take on this challenge?

Dr. Bill Cavers, the president of Doctors of BC (formerly BC Medical Association) and experienced physician leader, was interviewed on the importance of physician leadership and how medical students can foster these skills. Dr. Cavers received his Doctor of Medicine degree from UBC and is a family physician in Victoria. He has been involved with Doctors of BC since 1995 and played a central role in reshaping primary care in British Columbia during his time as Co–Chair of the General Practice Services Committee.[2] During his time as president, Dr. Cavers will be focusing on three key areas: 1) physician leadership and professionalism; 2) specialist and facility physician engagement; and 3) physician leadership in information technology.[3]

What are your thoughts on physician leadership? Why is it so important?

My dad taught me: “Do your best to leave something in better condition than when you found it.” And, to me, being engaged in our association has been a way of working to improve the profession and the parts of the healthcare system we can influence. These both improve patient care, and I believe that is our professional responsibility. It is also very rewarding. Overwhelming at times, yes, but very rewarding.

What do you have to say to current medical students in British Columbia?

Right from graduation, look past the limits of your own practice. Save some of your energy and attention, and direct it to a cause that makes the profession, your community, or even the world, a better place. As a physician you will have influence, so dedicate some time to do good!

Should medical students be starting to look for ways to foster leadership skills? What are your suggestions on how this can be done?

The healthcare system is changing. Physicians are more often working together in clinics, multi–disciplinary healthcare teams are becoming common, and increasing pressures are being put on the limited resources within our system dictating what services to deliver and how to deliver them.

The decisions made directly affect the quality of patient care and our professional ability to deliver that care, the patients’ experiences of care, and our experiences as physicians as to whether it is fulfilling and rewarding.

As a profession of influence and in this environment, physicians absolutely need to have leadership and management skills. While some of us may have innate abilities, all of us will improve with training and experience, and to that end medical school should include some leadership training. For practicing physicians, support should be provided for participation in accredited leadership courses, with a top level of Continuing Medical Education credit upon graduation. Leadership skills will be increasing in demand and applicable across the whole spectrum of physician activities, from one–on–one interaction with patients and colleagues up to system redesign.

How did your journey go en route to becoming the president of Doctors of BC?

There was an issue that arose and I wasn’t happy with the outcome. I voiced my opinion in a staff meeting, and was subsequently asked if I would participate by taking an open position on the Board of the Society of General Practitioners (SGP). I was hesitant at first as I had a young family and a busy life, but my colleague asked me, “If not you, then who? Everyone else has a busy life, too!” I thought this over, realized its truth, and remembered what my Dad said, as above. I accepted the position, and my life changed for the better.

That was 1995. I served on the Board of the SGP and became its president four years later. After completing my term at the SGP I joined the Board of the BC Medical Association and served on several committees, including the GP Services Committee. Having this variety of experience within the association, and over this surprising number of years, has given me greater understanding of issues facing our profession and association. And again, it has been very rewarding.

With the Canadian healthcare system evolving, every decision made to enact change comes with the potential to affect patient care and the work that we will do as future physicians. As medical students, we are now part of the medical community and we should be aware of the issues facing our profession and association. Physicians of today are expected to possess leadership and management skills—it is a professional responsibility to improve patient care through refining parts of the healthcare system that can be influenced. As medical students, we can develop leadership skills through the variety of opportunities presented to us. These include but are not limited to participating in health advocacy, organizing an event or conference, sitting on an association’s committee or board, and taking on a role in a club. Let us keep doing good, and remember, “If not you, then who?”

  1. Goodall AH. Physician-–leaders and hospital performance: is there an association? Soc Sci Med. 2011 Aug;73(4):535-9.
  2. Jablkowski J. Q & A with Dr Bill Cavers: Doctors of BC President 2014-2015. BCMJ. 2014 Sept; 56(7):328-333
  3. Cavers B. Physician leadership and medical students [online]. Message to Alvin Ip 2014Aug08 [cited 2014Oct14].

Ip A. Physician Leadership: Learning from Dr. Bill Cavers, President of Doctors of BC. UBCMJ. 2015; 6(2):33-34.