Physicians are well-known for safeguarding medical professionalism by performing institutional work in their daily practices. However, this study shows how opinion-making physicians in strategic arenas (i.e. national professional bodies, conferences and high-impact journals) advocate to reform medical professionalism by discursively framing physicians as leaders. The aim of this article is to critically investigate the use of leadership discourse by these opinion-making physicians. By performing a discursive analysis of key documents produced in these strategic arenas and additional observations of national conferences, this article investigates how leadership discourse is used and to what purpose. The following key uses of medical leadership discourses were identified: (1) regaining the lead in medical professionalism, (2) disrupting ‘old’ professional values, and (3) constructing the ‘modern’ physician. The analysis reveals that physicians as ‘leaders’ are expected to become team-players that work across disciplinary and organizational boundaries to improve the quality and affordability of care. In comparison to management that is negatively associated with NPM reform, leadership discourse is linked to positive institutional change, such as decentralization and integration of care. Yet, it is unclear to what extent leadership discourses are actually incorporated on the work floor and to what effect. Future studies could therefore investigate the uptake of leadership discourses by rank and file physicians to investigate whether leadership discourses are used in restricting or empowering ways.

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Social Science & Medicine
Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management (ESHPM)

Berghout, M., Oldenhof, L., Fabbricotti, I., & Hilders, C. (2018). Discursively framing physicians as leaders: Institutional work to reconfigure medical professionalism. Social Science & Medicine, 212, 68–75. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.07.013