Ashish Rawal, MD | Surgical Leadership Program


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Ashish Rawal, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon with OrthoTeam Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. In this role, he cares for many athletes to address their hip, shoulder and knee injuries.  He also serves as a leader at Stoughton Health. To increase his expertise in the non-clinical side of medicine, he recently took part in Harvard Medical School’s Surgical Leadership Program. The skills he gained through the program were instrumental in helping him advance his career and start a new service line at his organization. 

Rawal first became interested in medicine as a child; he watched his grandfather, who was a family physician, and knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps. But while he was intrigued by the idea of using his mind and applying principles of science, he also loved tinkering with his hands. This ultimately led him to become an orthopedic surgeon so he could combine all of these interests. 

Building Leadership Skills 

“We all get great training in medical school on how to be physicians. But there are a lot of intangibles that are never taught in school—like leadership skills, working in teams and the financial aspects of medicine. We also often feel more comfortable allowing others to make decisions for us rather than being the driver,” he says. 

The gaps he identified in his education prompted him to enroll in Harvard Business School’s Negotiation Mastery Course in the summer of 2020, which he found very helpful.  

“That class was fantastic and allowed me to practice an important skill set. But while I was taking that training, I learned about the Surgical Leadership Program, which is a one-year certificate program. I was intrigued because it is a focused program for surgeons looking at all of the leadership aspects that I felt I was missing,” Rawal says.  

He enrolled in the Surgical Leadership Program in 2021 and recently completed the curriculum. Initially, his goal in participating was to build his knowledge base to help him become a more successful leader at work. But he points out that the benefits he has gained in the process have far exceeded his expectations—both professionally and personally.  

Applying Important Life Lessons in Different Settings 

“I expected to learn a lot of the nuts and bolts of leadership. But what surprised me was how applicable the lessons were to make me a better person in all aspects of my life, including with my family and friends,” he explains. These lessons now are having a profound effect on how he approaches relationships. 

“I learned that being a leader is not something you do by the power given to you. It’s the trust others have in you to do what is best for the group. You need to understand the responsibility you have been given for the work that you do,” Rawal says. “Leadership is a service and you have to be selfless about it. You must look at ways to benefit others in the organization, not just yourself. This translates into every facet of life and not just work. I also learned to delve into the human side of things, and I learned the importance of communication in leadership,” he adds. 

Connecting with Surgeons from around the World 

Throughout the year, he points out, the workload was heavy but manageable.  

“The coursework consisted of assignments, lectures and quizzes. It did involve a lot of balancing and juggling since all of us were also working as full-time surgeons at the same time,” he says. 

One of the highlights of the program was that the faculty held many different roles and brought different types of expertise to the virtual classroom. In addition, the student body was very diverse and came from all different parts of the world. This provided a unique opportunity for scholars to learn from each other and see the different—and similar—challenges faced in various settings. 

“I found out that surgeons in different parts of the world have very different concerns, but many are facing the same common issues we are dealing with in the United States,” he says. 

Some of the common concerns scholars shared revolved around ways to keep the workplace running efficiently, how to motivate a team and how to get people to work together effectively. “We were able to talk about these issues and share strategies. We also worked in groups to solve problems,” he says. Other topics they explored include finances in medicine, quality and safety, and physician well-being. 

All these lessons now provide him with a more strategic outlook on which to build. 

“I have a better structure on how I want to analyze and solve a problem and I have a better understanding of the human aspect of being an effective leader. I focus on being a better listener, being better at empathizing with colleagues, improving my leadership, and understanding what people below me are going through and their concerns,” he says. 

He also says the networking aspect was very valuable. “I think all of the people I have come across in the program will be my friends for life now. We stay connected through chats, email and Linkedin,” he adds.  

Using the Capstone Project to Launch a New Service Line 

Dr. Rawal also completed a capstone project that was beneficial for him and his organization. “I used the capstone exercise to design and launch a new shoulder surgery service line at my hospital and expand what we can do. This program was the catalyst that allowed me to create a business plan to present to the hospital board and administration,” he stresses.  

Now he plans to continue building on the knowledge he has gained to continue to expand his leadership role in the future—not only in his hospital but also within his specialty. 

Advice for Other Surgeons 

His advice for others is that the Surgical Leadership Program is well worth considering. 
“There is value in this program for every surgeon, whether they work in a small or a large organization, regardless of their location throughout the world. This course focuses on aspects beyond our surgical training,” he says. 

He says that the program also provides a valuable way for participants to build their networks, both within the US and around the world. 

Learn more about Surgical Leadership.

Written by Lisa D. Ellis