Robert sighed when he saw the meeting reminder pop up on his screen. He knew when Dr. H requested the meeting that it wasn’t likely to be good news. Sure enough, when she entered his office holding an envelope, Robert could guess what the letter inside would say: “Due to current circumstances, I must tender my resignation…”
Dr. H had made no secret that she was unhappy–the call schedule, her patient load, and difficulties with specific patients. Robert had met with her once or twice to discuss the issues, but there was little he could do to improve her circumstances. Until they could hire more physicians–which they were trying to do–the call schedule had to remain as it was. Everyone felt overloaded. Everyone had to deal with difficult patients. But Dr. H couldn’t accept this, and now that she was leaving, the circumstances would get even worse for the physicians who remained…but what could be done?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. All over the country, physicians are tendering their resignations, leaving administrators scrambling to find replacements. However, while a replacement may stop the bleeding, it doesn’t eliminate the wound. So, while leaders are focused on recruitment, nothing is done to solve the problems driving physicians away.
According to an August MGMA STAT poll, 40% of medical groups had physicians retire early or leave the practice in 2022 due to burnout. This figure grew from a similar poll conducted a year earlier, in which 33% of practice leaders reported physicians leaving. Certainly, the ongoing pandemic pressure, coupled with staff shortages and other challenges, is causing physicians to seek greener pastures at higher rates. Instead of merely recruiting to replace these departing physicians, healthcare leaders must develop a formal physician retention plan to address these issues if they hope to maintain or potentially grow their patient population and meet the healthcare needs of their communities.
The Importance of Physician Retention Plans
A new whitepaper from Jackson Physician Search and MGMA, Back from Burnout: Confronting the Post-Pandemic Physician Turnover Crisis, documents the results of a study exploring the steps medical groups are taking to improve physician recruitment, engagement, retention, and burnout. According to their findings, despite the rising statistics on physician burnout and turnover, only 19% of administrators in the study said they have a formal physician retention plan, and only 8% of physicians think their organizations offer one.
Among those administrators who report having a formal plan, nearly 8 in 10 say it is at least somewhat effective. Among physicians, 62% pointed to retention programs as somewhat or very important to their satisfaction, up from 59% in 2021. So why aren’t more leaders taking the time to create a formal plan to address one of the most pressing issues healthcare organizations face? Whether they don’t feel they have the time or don’t recognize the potential impact of formal retention plans, leaders must rethink their approach to retention plans and develop a written plan that outlines everything the organization does and plans to do to retain physicians at their organizations.
6 Components of an Effective Physician Retention Plan
So, what does an effective physician retention program look like? While physicians at each organization will have unique needs, the JPS-MGMA research reveals the latest data on what is most important to physicians across the nation. While nothing on this list is likely to surprise you, it is important to formally address each issue in a written physician retention plan that is introduced to physicians during recruitment and revisited with physicians throughout their tenure.
Develop a physician retention plan that addresses the following:
Two-way communication with management — According to the JPS-MGMA research, two-way communication with management received the highest number of votes for the most important factor in physician job satisfaction. This was also true in 2021. This means providing a foundation of trust where physicians have regular access to leadership is critical to their satisfaction. So, commit, in writing, to providing those opportunities on a regular basis. Go beyond traditional one-on-one meetings and offer forums and panels to enhance discussions and improve transparency. Document these efforts as part of your physician retention plan.
Detailed compensation information — Compensation was second on the list of factors contributing to physician job satisfaction. Of course, physicians want to be fairly compensated for their work, but due to the often complicated structure of physician compensation plans, they may feel left in the dark about how their paychecks are calculated. Document the details of the compensation structure in a written retention plan so that every physician knows exactly where they stand and what criteria they need to achieve in order to reach the next level.
Equity in workload — Physicians, like most people, want to feel that everyone they work with is carrying a fair share of the burden. In the JPS-MGMA study, “equity in workload” ranked #3 on the list of factors contributing to job satisfaction, with nearly half of respondents saying it is “very important.” To meet this need, be thoughtful, fair, and transparent about how things like new patient distribution, call schedules, and miscellaneous responsibilities are decided. Document these processes so there is no misunderstanding and reference it in the physician retention plan.
Reduced administrative burden — Physicians want to treat patients, and yet, much of their time is spent on administrative tasks such as charting and other paperwork. In fact, some studies have found that physicians spend twice as much time doing administrative work as they do seeing patients. In multiple studies, physicians point to excessive administrative burdens as the source of their burnout, so organizations must find ways to improve in this area. In the aforementioned MGMA poll, some leaders report making improvements to EHR workflows and hiring scribes to help with notation. Document the ways leadership is committed to reducing administrative burdens and provide a process physicians should follow if they feel administrative duties reaching unacceptable levels. To retain physicians, leadership must prioritize keeping administrative burdens manageable.
Additional time off — The importance of work-life balance is increasing among physicians of every generation, and physicians need time away from the stressors of work to recover and relax. In the JPS-MGMA study, time off was among the top five factors impacting physician job satisfaction. As part of an effective physician retention plan, detail the amount of time off physicians receive annually and the specifics of when their allotted time increases. In addition, consider offering medical mission opportunities or sabbaticals after a specified number of years.
Strategic physician recruitment — When physicians are overworked, it is often due to the organization being understaffed. Comprehensive medical staff planning helps to project departures and anticipate growth, allowing the organization to begin the recruitment process long before a vacancy arises. As part of your physician retention plan, make a commitment to strategic physician recruitment. You should also be willing to leverage locums if necessary to keep the burden on your physicians manageable.
Formalize Your Physician Retention Plan
You may find yourself reviewing this list and thinking, “Well, of course, these are important issues, and my organization is already working to improve in these areas.” However, while awareness and informal steps are a good start, documenting your commitments in a formal physician retention plan is important for 1) making physicians aware of your intentions, and 2) holding leadership accountable for following through on intentions.
Knowing what needs to happen and taking steps to make it so are two different things. By documenting a formal, written plan to improve retention at your organization, all parties will know where they stand and what needs to happen to move the needle on this critical metric.
If your organization is focused on recruiting physicians simply to keep up with attrition, it can be difficult to find the resources to think about a formal physician retention plan. Perhaps it’s time to partner with a national physician recruitment firm so that you can focus more on retention. Reach out to the team at Jackson Physician Search today.