From doctors to leaders: meeting the 21st century healthcare challenge

From junior medics in a fast-paced emergency ward to surgeons and professors, doctors at all levels need leadership skills, says Dr Zachary Tan.

The University of Queensland (UQ) alumnus is speaking from experience. Since graduating in 2015, he has gone from being a junior doctor at Princess Alexandra Hospital to working towards ophthalmology training in Sydney and now helping lead the digital health startup CancerAid.

The skills he learned in UQ’s Medical Leadership Program last year are standing him in good stead in his new role, as he works to expand the company’s global reach. Founded in Sydney in 2015, CancerAid supports 20,000 patients and is rated as the top cancer app in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Dr Tan’s role includes leading the startup’s commercialisation and evidence generation strategies.

“CancerAid empowers cancer patients as active partners in their care, to achieve improved clinical and health outcomes. 

I have long been interested in digital health. It could help us to meet healthcare challenges we face and transform the way doctors communicate with patients and deliver care.”

Later this year he will be pursuing his interest in digital health further when he begins a one-year Masters in Global Affairs at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, as one of the winners of the prestigious international Schwarzman Scholarship, which is designed to prepare future global leaders to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

“Exciting things are happening in China in health policy reform, technology, and artificial intelligence to break down barriers for rural and urban access to health care.”

Until then, he is continuing to work a number of hours each month in the emergency ward at St Vincent’s in Sydney, alongside his role at CancerAid, to help him keep in touch with patients’ experience ‘at the front line’.

The Medical Leadership Program draws upon content from UQ Business School’s world-renowned Master of Business Administration (MBA) program to deliver healthcare-focused courses in leadership, strategy and innovation management.

Dr Tan said, “It helped me develop a toolkit of business skills and corporate knowledge which are useful both as a doctor and working in the private sector. I started to appreciate how different systems and structures, and the way these complex systems are organised can influence the care we deliver.

“I learned tangible skills about how to work with others or engage with stakeholders. Every clinician in a hospital, from a junior doctor to a senior professor plays some sort of leadership role. I only wish these skills could be shared with them all.”

Take the next step in your medical career

Find out more about the UQ Medical Leadership Program