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Linking leadership development programs for physicians with organization-level outcomes: a realist review

Debets, M., Jansen, I., Lombarts, K. , Kuijer-Siebelink, W., Kruijthof, K., Steinert, Y., Daams, J. & Silkens, M. ORCID: 0000-0001-8279-1341 (2023). Linking leadership development programs for physicians with organization-level outcomes: a realist review. BMC Health Services Research, 23, article number 783. doi: 10.1186/s12913-023-09811-y


Hospitals invest in Leadership Development Programs (LDPs) for physicians, assuming they benefit the organization’s performance. Researchers have listed the advantages of LDPs, but knowledge of how and why organization-level outcomes are achieved is missing.

To investigate how, why and under which circumstances LDPs for physicians can impact organization-level outcomes.

We conducted a realist review, following the RAMESES guidelines. Scientific articles and grey literature published between January 2010 and March 2021 evaluating a leadership intervention for physicians in the hospital setting were considered for inclusion. The following databases were searched: Medline, PsycInfo, ERIC, Web of Science, and Academic Search Premier. Based on the included documents, we developed a LDP middle-range program theory (MRPT) consisting of Context-Mechanism-Outcome configurations (CMOs) describing how specific contexts (C) trigger certain mechanisms (M) to generate organization-level outcomes (O).

In total, 3904 titles and abstracts and, subsequently, 100 full-text documents were inspected; 38 documents with LDPs from multiple countries informed our MRPT. The MRPT includes five CMOs that describe how LDPs can impact the organization-level outcomes categories ‘culture’, ‘quality improvement’, and ‘the leadership pipeline’: 'Acquiring self-insight and people skills (CMO1)', 'Intentionally building professional networks (CMO2)', 'Supporting quality improvement projects (CMO3)', 'Tailored LDP content prepares physicians (CMO4)', and 'Valuing physician leaders and organizational commitment (CMO5)'. Culture was the outcome of CMO1 and CMO2, quality improvement of CMO2 and CMO3, and the leadership pipeline of CMO2, CMO4, and CMO5. These CMOs operated within an overarching context, the leadership ecosystem, that determined realizing and sustaining organization-level outcomes.

LDPs benefit organization-level outcomes through multiple mechanisms. Creating the contexts to trigger these mechanisms depends on the resources invested in LDPs and adequately supporting physicians. LDP providers can use the presented MRPT to guide the development of LDPs when aiming for specific organization-level outcomes.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Publisher Keywords: Leadership Development Programs (LDPs), Leadership, Physicians, Realist review, Middle-range program theory, Organization-level outcomes, Quality Improvement
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
R Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
SWORD Depositor:
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