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03-06-2019 | Review Article | Uitgave 3/2019 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 3/2019

Is postgraduate leadership education a match for the wicked problems of health systems leadership? A critical systematic review

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 3/2019
Betty Onyura, Sara Crann, David Tannenbaum, Mary Kay Whittaker, Stuart Murdoch, Risa Freeman
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-019-0517-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Editor’s Note:



There have been a growing number of leadership education programs for physicians. However, debates about the value and efficacy of leadership education in medicine persist, and there are calls for systematic and critical perspectives on medical leadership development. Here, we review evidence on postgraduate leadership education and discuss findings in relation to contemporary evidence on leadership education and practice.


We searched multiple databases for papers on postgraduate leadership development programs, published in English between 2007 and 2017. We identified 4,691 papers; 31 papers met the full inclusion criteria. Data regarding curricular content and design, learner demographics, instructional methods, and learning outcomes were abstracted and synthesized.


There was modest evidence for effectiveness of programs in influencing knowledge and skills gains in select domains. However, the conceptual underpinnings of the ‘leadership’ training delivered were often unclear. Contemporary theory and evidence on leadership practice was not widely incorporated in program design. Programs were almost exclusively uni-professional, focused on discrete skill development, and did not address systems-level leadership issues. Broader leadership capacity building strategies were underutilized. A new wave of longitudinal, integrated clinical and leadership programming is observed.


Our findings raise questions about persistent preparation-practice gaps in leadership education in medicine. Leadership education needs to evolve to incorporate broader collective capacity building, as well as evidence-informed strategies for leadership development. Barriers to educational reform need to be identified and addressed as educators work to re-orientate education programs to better prepare budding physician leaders for the challenges of health system leadership.
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