As the healthcare industry faces the challenge of an aging physician workforce, individual healthcare administrators must promptly find ways to manage increasing physician retirements within their organizations. However, the most commonly proposed solutions — educating and training more physicians, increasing the number of residency spots, making it easier for foreign-trained physicians to get licensed, etc. — alone won’t solve the immediate obstacles created by physician retirements happening now and in the near future.
So what can administrators do to ease dilemmas created by physician retirements? Certainly, there are steps to take in response to a physician’s retirement announcement that will ease the aftermath, but a more proactive approach involving industry research, internal surveys, and open communication will allow you to forecast retirements, so you can prepare for a seamless transition.
Forecasting Physician Retirements: The First Step in Succession Planning
The most proactive thing healthcare administrators can do to ease the impact of physician retirements is to develop a forecasting system so they can better prepare for the eventual reality. This first step in succession planning, forecasting physician retirements, may seem obvious, and yet, most organizations don’t have a physician succession plan in place. According to the latest physician retirement research from Jackson Physician Search, 69% of administrators reported they do not have formal succession plans at their organizations.
Succession plans aren’t the only things administrators are missing. A recent STAT poll from MGMA found a majority of medical groups (77%) do not have a formal physician retention plan, a process that, when implemented, is likely to lengthen the amount of time physicians work with organizations before they retire. Both succession plans and retention plans play essential roles in solving workforce challenges at healthcare organizations, including those related to physician retirements.
Research Industry Data on Physician Retirements, Turnover, and Retention
What is the average age of physician retirement? Which specialties have the highest number of physicians nearing retirement? What is the average time-to-fill in your market for the specialists you’ll need? The answers to these questions and other industry data points can help administrators make educated guesses about when physicians are most likely to retire and how much time it will take to replace them. The aforementioned physician retirement report from Jackson Physician Search is full of useful data points covering not just the when but the why and how physicians tend to retire.
In addition to physician retirement trends, administrators must consider the community’s needs and the organization’s plans for growth and then determine how the projected physician retirements will impact both. When there are inevitable retirement-related vacancies and the need for expansion, a dedicated physician recruitment partner can be a true asset in your organization’s physician recruitment journey. A physician recruitment partner allows your organization to connect with various top physicians catered to your organization and community’s needs so that everyone can move forward and adapt with a team they’re confident in.
Conduct an Internal Survey to Estimate Physician Retirements
Gather data on the physicians currently on staff to understand their demographics, specialties, skill sets, and patient volumes. Use this internal data, along with your industry research, to create a timeline that estimates the number of physicians likely to retire in each specialty for the foreseeable future. Industry data on physician retention can help you estimate other attrition as well.
The survey also presents an opportunity to ask physicians about job satisfaction. Invite physicians to share which issues contribute to their dissatisfaction as well as what they like most about working at the organization. Use this information to create a physician retention plan that speaks to the issues causing the dissatisfaction and strives to make physicians happier in their job and, therefore, more likely to delay retirement.
Normalize Talking About Physician Retirement Plans
According to Jackson Physician Search’s research, administrators prefer physicians to give more than one year of notice prior to retirement, and yet most physicians believe three-six months is a reasonable amount of time. So, if administrators want more time to plan, they must start talking about retirement plans much earlier. We advise initiating a physician retirement conversation with every physician beginning at the age of 55. The discussion can be casual as it is simply an attempt to gauge their short and long-term plans. Of course, their plans may evolve considerably in the years between 55 and 65, but by starting the conversation well in advance and revisiting it regularly, you will remove any awkwardness surrounding the topic.
The retirement conversation should be ongoing and involve questions not only about timing but also about how physicians envision making the transition to retirement. Do they think they will want to shift to part-time or take on a more consultative role as they ease into full retirement? Make sure to provide them with options that allow them to keep working in some capacity as long as they are willing and able. Express support for their desires and choices and encourage them to be open with you as their timelines and intentions change.
While no one can predict the exact number and timing of physician retirements, there are proven steps administrators can take to be much more prepared for retirements whenever they occur. When it comes to succession planning, start by forecasting physician retirements via external research, surveying internal physicians, and fostering open communication. Additional useful tactics involve identifying a physician recruitment partner, creating a timeline, and making a contingency plan. By projecting physician retirements and detailing the actions required when a physician gives notice, the organization lessens the burden felt throughout the practice and ensures continuity of patient care.
Are you beginning to prepare for an incoming wave of physician retirements? The team at Jackson Physician Search has the experience and expertise to advise and accelerate your efforts. Reach out today to learn more.