Physician Retention Strategies & Challenges

The data on physician retention is a cause for concern for everyone in the healthcare industry. In 2018, the hospital turnover rate for all job descriptions was 19.1 percent, the highest of the decade. Moreover, on average since 2014, hospitals turned over 87 percent of staff. According to the 2019 National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report, although 8.13 percent of hospitals view retention as a strategic imperative, only 43.2 percent have a formal retention strategy, and 27.4 percent say a formal strategy is “under consideration.”

The costs associated with turnover alone should warrant more urgency. The time and resources required for recruiting, screening, hiring, onboarding, and training new employees, along with the potentially negative cultural impact and lost productivity resulting from staff changes could total millions of dollars per year for a large health system.

Reversing the Declining Physician Retention Trend

Evaluating these five areas of a healthcare business is a good starting point for a strategy that emphasizes and increases physician retention:

Hiring Doctors
Hiring physicians for the long term requires finding professionals who are not only skilled but also the best fit for the healthcare organization. After developing an in-depth description of the healthcare provider’s workplace culture, the hiring manager should clearly communicate the details to candidates during interviews. Providing an honest picture of the workplace culture of an organization and being upfront about what physicians can expect when working there can assure both the hiring manager and the candidate of a good fit.

When an organization is ready to hire, job offers should include the best salary and benefits package that the healthcare organization’s budget will allow. Competitive packages include ample paid time off to enable physicians to find a healthy work-life balance.

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Physician Workload
A study by the University of Virginia Health System determined that physicians were more likely to leave their positions if they felt they were spending too much time in a particular area of their jobs. The balance between patient care, administration, research, and teaching and make or break a physician’s desire to stay with a specific organization.

The study also found that it’s essential to understand each physician’s perception of what the right mix of responsibilities should be. Healthcare leadership needs to keep lines of communication open with physicians and work with them to balance their schedules.

Physicians can also find more job satisfaction when they have a higher degree of autonomy, allowing them to make their own decisions about what’s most mission-critical to achieve each day.

Employee Engagement
Healthcare consultant Craig Deao says engagement is key to physician retention. In an interview with Healthcare Finance, he explains, “Organizations must create an environment that actively engages employees. If not, the best ones will leave. Or, perhaps worse, they’ll ‘quit on the job’ but stay for the benefits.”

Gallup study concurs, finding that engaged physicians are more loyal and willing to work through challenges. Physician engagement can also mean additional benefits for the healthcare organization. Engaged physicians are 26 percent more productive than those who are less engaged, which adds up to $460,000 in patient revenue on average each year.

Professional Development for Doctors
In an interview with HealthLeaders, J. Gregory Stovall, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs for Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics in Tyler, TX, says his organization recognized when physicians are engaged in leadership, their sense of ownership increases and physician retention improves. Trinity Mother Frances Hospital created a leadership development program that supports physicians’ attendance at national conventions and brings leadership development courses on-site.

Healthcare organizations that aren’t positioned to execute a formal leadership development strategy could consider a mentorship program that can create a learning culture as well as increase job satisfaction.

Medical Technology
​Technology, in general, can make people’s jobs easier, help them do their jobs better, and increase employee satisfaction. Medtech systems can help doctors provide the highest possible quality of care and lead to better outcomes. Technological advancements can also provide virtual training and instructional opportunities and facilitate reliable communication among staff and with patients. A healthcare organization without the most beneficial technologies may lose physicians to those that do.

Healthcare Leaders Must Make Physician Retention a Priority

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physicians is growing at 13 percent, so competing for — and retaining — top talent will only become more of a challenge. Healthcare organizations must take a hard look at their track record with physician retention, why physicians leave, and intervention that could prevent staff from seeking other employment.

Many healthcare organizations are taking a patient-centric approach to care. But to provide the quality of care that patients need, they need a full staff of skilled professionals. Organizations need to build physician retention through engagement, the right balance of activities, opportunities to develop their skills, and the tools they need to offer state-of-the-art care. Then optimal care will be possible.

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