What Impact will the COVID-19 Pandemic have on the Future of Healthcare Leadership?

The media has repeatedly reminded us of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers. Challenges have been fear of personal safety due to lack of supplies, managing an unprecedented surge in patient volume, redeployment to unfamiliar departments and working in new teams. However, there has not been much mention on how this pandemic has influenced medical leadership and its effects on leadership in the future. The pandemic has emphasised weaknesses within hospitals, such as safety and communication errors which have increased significantly since the start of this health crisis. 

Certain components have been identified that can transform a healthcare organisation. In order to eliminate medical errors, there must be alignment across these following components:

1 – Culture of safety

Going forward, leaders have to possess the necessary skills to create a shift in the organisational thinking. The working environment has to focus on respect and transparency. Team members must be able to easily identify unsafe conditions and feel confident enough to report them. 

2 – Holistic, continuous improvement process

Healthcare leaders should assess the risks and inefficiencies in a healthcare organisation as a whole, so that priorities can be made to address areas that need more urgent attention. It is important as leaders to select the right team for this as well as provide support and remove barriers so that the work can be completed. 

3 – Sustainability

Healthcare workers have to remain constantly updated in changes in policies, procedures, protocols and pathways. Medical leaders should facilitate this and make is easy for healthcare workers to understand their roles and any changes to it. 

4 – Leadership development training

By offering this to healthcare workers, the organisation will help create a culture of innovation, ultimately leading to organisational success. This will also create a positive sense of well-being amongst the workforce as individual professional training requirements are addressed. 

The large surge in patients being admitted to the hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to changes in hospital systems, pathways and ward structure. This has in turn led to the realisation that shared ownership is integral for success, as healthcare organisations have had to work collectively as a whole system to strive towards a common goal. The pandemic has created circumstances for team collaboration and a focus shifted towards patient care.  

“This is the vision we have, and we have to do it together. Everyone has their role.” Mr Kevin O’Neill, consultant neurosurgeon


The pandemic is one of the most significant global health crises in recent history and as evidenced, a strong physician leadership is required to lead effectively. The performance of leaders, especially in times of crisis, has a large impact on the organisation. We have also learnt the importance of adaptability in leadership as many healthcare professionals have been redeployed to unfamiliar clinical specialities, had their training suspended, clinical rotations and exams cancelled, and PhD studies postponed. These changes could potentially be regarded as a threat to the career development of many healthcare workers, however this flexibility in roles will likely lead to a deeper understanding for adaptive teamwork. Healthcare workers agree that being part of a multidisciplinary team has helped them feel more confident in caring for patients with Covid-19. Formal training is replaced by learning on the job and learning how to manage complex clinical situations and adapt the service delivery accordingly. 

The impact of the Covid-19 on the qualities of a medical leader:

1 – Empowering team members and empathising with their teams

One of the repeatedly mentioned top qualities of a medical leader is to empower people, as it will lead to a greater engagement amongst team members who will feel encouraged to suggest a wide range of problem-solving approaches. Instead of ordering a list of tasks, some leaders have found it useful to inform their team of objectives and allowed them to suggest strategies to achieve them, this might even lead to better problem solution proposals.  With the pandemic and the sudden rising demand on the healthcare organisations, the importance of delegation of tasks and trusting team members have never been so prominent.

2 – Having physical presence and showing transparency

Leaders must have a physical presence and in a transparent manner communicate relevant information to their team members to make them feel included and empowered. This also means the willingness of admitting strengths, weaknesses and fears. 

3 – Utilising multiple leadership styles and showing vulnerability

The pandemic has changed the way physician leaders were previously portrayed as directive and hierarchically orientated. Interviews conducted with healthcare leaders has highlighted how sharing their thoughts and fears on the uncertainties of the pandemic have led to building credibility within their teams. It is also important to ensure team members are being heard and feel valued. 

4 – Being more self-reflective

The pandemic has allowed medical leaders to take part in leadership reasoning to a greater extent; self-reflection on performance and how matters could have been managed differently. This presents an opportunity to learn from others and oneself as well as engage in reflective practice for the benefit their future leadership. 

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*This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information is  not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Warraich S, Olabi B, Azhar B, Tanzeem S.F., Fischer M (2020). Medical leadership in the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Journal of Hospital Medicine Vol. 81, No. 6 https://doi.org/10.12968/hmed.2020.0250

Standiford TC, Davuluri K, Trupiano N, et al (2020). Physician leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic: an emphasis on the team, well-being and leadership reasoning. BMJ Leader 

Doi: 10.1136/leader-2020-000344

Prosser D (2020). The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Future of Healthcare Leadership. Three Critical Components for Safe Patient Care. Healthmanagement.org, Vol 20