The Shrinking Gap between Academic and Community-Based Physician Leader Recruitment

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Just a decade ago, physicians made a choice early in their career to be a teacher or a clinician and there was very little cross-over. Those that chose the academic medical path became physician leaders or clinical faculty who spent much, if not all, of their time teaching medical students, conducting medical research, and commandeering schedules, budgets, and strategic plans. Their clinician counterparts, however, were inspired to care for patients in medical clinics, acute care centers, or hospitals—possibly becoming physician leaders later in their career.

Academic versus private-sector physician leader used to translate to large title versus large pay—but no more.

It used to be that physicians who chose an academic career path could expect a large title and reasonable hours, but lower compensation. It was a tradeoff that physician leaders were willing to accept as there was an equilibrium of supply and demand. Academic Medical Deans and Chairs recruited with this knowledge, setting up large search committees, reviewing long slates of physician leader candidates, and conducting multiple interviews. The recruitment process often stretched well past the one-year mark, making it a painfully slow, inefficient, and expensive process. Worse, there was nothing candidates could do about it.

But the gap between what academic and community-based physician leaders demand in a new role is fiercely closing with power transitioning from the traditional institution to the candidate in high demand. With the worsening physician shortage—between 42,600 and 121,300 by 2032 according the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC)—both academic and community-based healthcare organizations are recruiting from the same pool. Academia will need to adjust their recruitment strategy to win physician leaders—offering higher pay, more traditional sign-on incentives, and a faster, more candidate-friendly recruitment process.

What are the three reasons driving the shift that’s creating a new generation of physician leaders?

  1. Mergers, acquisitions, and collaborations. A decade ago, few would have predicted Duke University Health System and LifePoint Health would collaborate and form a joint LLC. Today, we’re seeing this more often as financially strong and centralized healthcare organizations are partnering with academic facilities to attract talent, retain residents, and keep patients from leaving the system.

As the proverbial lines blur between these organizations due to mergers, acquisitions, and collaborations, physician leader employment agreements are more centralized than ever before, leading physicians to view new job opportunities on either side of the table equally.

  1. Massive physician deficit. In addition to the total physician shortage, the AAMC is estimating a deficit of 55,000 primary care doctors and 66,000 specialists. Baby boomers (76.4 million people in the U.S. and our largest workforce) have a long life expectancy, and they’re starting to retire from medicine, only coupling the problem. The shortage doesn’t discriminate between practicing clinicians and physician leaders either, leading to an unforgiving supply and demand situation.

According to the American Association of Physician Leadership (AAPL), dual degree programs such as MD/MBA or MD/MHA have increased from six to more than 65 throughout the last decade—physicians are pursuing leadership training and they expect to be compensated for their efforts. In fact, dual-degreed physicians and physician leaders earn 13% more whether they choose the academic or traditional career path.

  1. Recruitment and retention of physician leaders. Traditionally, academic physician leaders rarely left their posts prior to retirement, allowing academia the luxury of long lead times on succession planning. It was not unusual—and it’s still the case—that a recruitment process could extend well beyond a year. With everyone competing for the same candidates now, those days are gone and both academia and physician leader recruitment firms need to modernize their recruitment strategy if they want to hire to clinically sound, resilient physician leaders who fit within the culture and desire to stay long term. Academia will need to increase their compensation packages and streamline their recruitment processes to attract talent, as well as provide physician leaders with new opportunities to lead and grow within the organization to retain them.

Today’s physicians and physician leaders are now in the recruitment driver seat. They want more control over new opportunities, and they won’t tolerate a cumbersome recruitment process. At Jackson Physician Search, we’ve found success in rolling well-qualified and interested candidates as they become available versus waiting for a full slate, reducing the number of interviews with cutting edge technology, and providing transparent and frequent communication to search committees. This strategy reduces candidate attrition and time-to-fill, while increasing recruitment return on investment. Need help recruiting a physician leader? Please contact our physician leadership experts at Jackson Physician Search today.

About Angela Henry, FACHE, Vice President, Physician Leadership

Angela Henry leads the physician leadership division for Jackson Physician Search. She advises healthcare organizations and medical schools on strategic workforce solutions to secure the right physician leaders using a transparent recruitment strategy.

Prior to joining Jackson Physician Search, Angela worked for other search firms that provided staffing solutions for acute care, outpatient, ambulatory, and academic organizations.  She brought cost savings to her clients by utilizing contingent labor and increasing retention of permanent clinical leaders.

Angela’s passion for healthcare began at a very young age after participating in medical mission trips to Mexico and Ukraine. She entered nursing school and owned and managed Green Country Surgical Arts, a cosmetic and general surgery clinic in Oklahoma.

Angela earned her Master of Business Administration from the University of Georgia, a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Business from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and a Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma. She is the Co-Chair for the Program’s Committee at the Georgia Association of Healthcare Executives and, in 2019, earned her Fellowship in the American College of Healthcare Executives.