Research Handbook on Leadership in Healthcare – Book Review by Dr Jamie Smyth & Dr Charlotte Caroff

Book cover art for 'Research Handbook on Leadership in Healthcare'Published in 2023 and edited by Naomi Chambers, the publication “Research Handbook for Leadership in Healthcare” aims to dissect the multifaceted and transdisciplinary role of leadership within the healthcare sector. The book stands out for its in-depth exploration of contemporary leadership theories and practices tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities faced by healthcare leaders today.

Aimed at an audience of academics, policymakers, and established healthcare leaders, the book achieves a unique balance of real-world applicability and theoretical depth through the combined expertise of its contributors. Featuring insights from a number of experienced and internationally recognised healthcare leaders and scholars, this publication works to explore both academic and practical aspects of healthcare leadership.

Although not explicitly aimed at such groups, sections of the book are useful for early career professionals in healthcare aiming to understand the landscape of healthcare leadership and seek guidance on potential career paths. Due to its depth this book may appear overwhelming for beginners and practitioners seeking guidance for overcoming specific leadership challenges. However, each chapter is written as a self-contained exploration of a specific theme or topic, allowing readers to focus on areas of interest and review the text in a more targeted manner.

Divided into five sections, the book takes readers on a well-structured and in-depth journey through the field of healthcare leadership. Beginning with the evolution of healthcare leadership over time and an overview of leadership theories and frameworks, the book progresses onto worked examples through reference to international case studies and future priorities for leadership development. This structure works to expand readers’ understanding of leadership science before exploring what such theories look like in practice.

The book covers a wide array of topics vital for leaders in healthcare, such as ethical decision-making, strategic management, and team dynamics. A significant strength of this publication is its emphasis on practical knowledge and case studies which illustrate the real-world applications of theoretical concepts. The handbook addresses a number of contemporary challenges, ranging from the difficulties of COVID-19 to the need to achieve net-zero emissions. This makes it relevant for the ever evolving and dynamic landscape of healthcare leadership. However, each example and case study generally focuses on the successful application of leadership theory, which while inspiring, could have perhaps also explored the inherent risks of leadership and the important lessons that may come from failure.

The exploration of real-world applications through case reports ensures balance within a text that is otherwise grounded in the theoretical and research aspects of healthcare leadership. Furthermore, through presentations of contemporary case studies and discussion around current practice and the evidence supporting these, each case report is a call for reflection on the part of the reader. Recognising the role that critical reflection plays in the development of healthcare leaders, Chambers encourages the reader to reflect on modern standards and challenge one’s own practices and beliefs.  Consequently the handbook becomes more than a theoretical reference text, serving as a developmental tool for those who are willing to question their own leadership standards.

Recognising the dynamic nature of the healthcare sector, the book addresses the evolution of leadership roles in response to shifting healthcare policies. It also delves into the importance of emotional intelligence and cultural competence, skills essential for managing diverse teams and ensuring ongoing improvement in international contexts. This is supplemented by the contributions of international healthcare leaders from a number of countries across Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. As noted by Chambers in the afterword however, the book largely portrays a Global-North-centric approach to healthcare leadership. Outside of specific chapters authored by contributors based in the Global-South, the book offers little in the way of discourse when it comes to acknowledging or addressing the impact of colonialism on existing leadership frameworks.

In addressing the development needs for future generations of healthcare leaders, contributors regularly make reference to contemporary issues and technological advances, making it highly relevant for the development of established leaders. Perhaps a discussion of whose responsibility it will be to develop these future healthcare leaders would have also been beneficial. A key responsibility of leadership is to ensure the sustainability of the systems and services in which one leads, yet aside from brief mentions to succession planning and talent management in the referenced literature, these topics receive relatively little attention.

Overall, Chambers’ “Research Handbook for Leadership in Healthcare” is a comprehensive guide to healthcare leadership theory, combining the prolific experience of its contributors to explore ways in which to turn theory into practicable results. Likely to become a key reference in healthcare leadership studies and the development of future leadership training programs, the book represents a valuable resource for established leaders and academics who seek to practice evidence-based leadership in the pursuit of more effective and more equitable healthcare systems.

Book Reviewers

Photo of Jamie Smyth

Dr. Jamie Smyth

Jamie is a Public Health Specialist Registrar in London. Prior to this he worked as a doctor in the NHS for 6 years before spending a year working with the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management as a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow, where he was also an honorary deputy chair of the organisation’s national Trainee Steering Group. He is also the Chair of the Next Generation Advisory Panel for the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare, an event co-produced by the BMJ and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Jamie is an Associate Fellow of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management, and co-founder of the Aspiring Leaders in Healthcare Network.”

Photo of Charlotte Caroff

Dr. Charlotte Caroff

Charlotte is a Foundation Year 1 doctor currently training in North West London. She was appointed as Foundation Programme Lead to the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management Trainee Steering Group in October 2023. Prior to this, Charlotte has engaged in several leadership projects throughout her higher education, including the FMLM Medical Student Leadership Scheme.

Declaration of interests

We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.

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