Why teach systemic leadership to medical students?

Why should we confront bachelor medical students with systemic work? Systemic work is usually applied in business settings for team development and organisational consultancy. Bachelor medical students do not work in an organisation yet. They often do not experience dysfunctional teamwork or struggles with organisational issues. On top of that, they have to become doctors, not managers…

What we do know is that the medical setting they end up working in is a complex organisation with many different roles and interdependencies. And it is demanding work. When medical students enter the medical setting in their trainee phase, they get sucked into the medical system and get overwhelmed very easily. There is a strong socialisation process and it’s difficult to remain true to your authentic self. This has had a major impact on personal well-being as well as on functioning as a doctor and on patient safety. Recently, Clair Loots wrote an interesting article about this topic in Medisch Contact. The picture with the article already speaks volumes.

Internationally, there is now attention for developing leadership skills and awareness of the medical system as part of the medical training (CanMEDS 2015). But how do we equip medical students with skills and experiences so they can handle these complex organisations better? Or even act as ‘agents of change’? This is currently one of the important questions in the field of medical education and there is no clear answer to it yet.

In 2017, the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) has set-up an educational line in leadership development (Fleer, 2017), to introduce education that addresses the development of these skills and competencies This educational has it roots in transformational learning and training in systemic awareness using the systemic constellation approach is an integral part of it. Many new lectures, trainings and workshops have been developed and we are getting more and more experienced. This way, we hope to be able to contribute to the personal well-being and functioning of the students, doctors, patients and the complete medical system.


C. Loots. Werkklimaat vaak moeilijk voor jonge dokters. Medisch Contact (in Dutch) 2018. 

J. Fleer, C van Bruggen, J de Jeu, J Borleffs. Ontwikkel leiderschap al in de bachelor. Medisch Contact (in Dutch) 2017.

Dath D, Chan M-K, Abbott C. CanMEDS 2015: From Manager to Leader. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada 2015 March.

Frenk J, Chen L, Bhutta ZA, Cohen J, Crisp N, Evans T, et al. Health professionals for a new century: transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world. The Lancet 2010.