By: Jason Frizzell, PSI Services
The general population is likely familiar with today’s nationwide nursing shortage. What may be less evident, however, is the corresponding shortage of physicians. According to a recent report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, there will be a US shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032. The biggest contributing factor? America’s growing aging population. With one third of all currently active doctors reaching the age of 65 in the next 10 years, their retirement could have the greatest impact on physician supply.
Unfortunately, the shortage is not just because of retiring doctors. A survey from Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that 59% of practices reported they have had physicians leave in the past year, and not just from retirement. With 44% of surveyed physicians reporting they feel burned out at work, the question is not, “How do we hire more doctors?,” but rather, “How do we meet the need for physicians while supporting and retaining the physicians we currently have?” Implementing the below best practices can help when fighting burnout and retaining current physicians.
Set expectations appropriately
Lack of alignment and unmet expectations are reported as two of the top reasons physicians leave a practice. To help avoid that outcome, make sure to include a realistic job preview during the hiring process that outlines all expectations of the position regarding schedule and productivity and what success looks like. This is also an ideal time to gather information on motivational fit.
Motivational fit is the extent to which an employee’s expectations of what they seek to gain out of a job match up with what the organization provides its employees. Ensuring there is alignment in motivational fit is a critical component to helping reduce turnover at all levels. One great way to gather insightful motivational fit data is to add motivational fit questions to a specific, structured interview guide for your physician hiring.
Create a positive onboarding experience
Once a physician is hired, ensure the physician is set up for success from Day One. The on-boarding process is a great time to align goals and set expectations in detail. Be sure to also set up recurring meetings to review performance and provide support to remove any barriers that may be preventing value-adds (i.e., lean management). As leadership sometimes becomes unaware of the day-to-day tasks and process flows for patient care in each unit, the recurring meetings can be utilized to discuss improvements, challenges, and the barriers that may be faced. For example, many physicians struggle with the balance of patient care and spending an unnecessary amount of time completing administrative tasks due to internal processes, requirements, and EHR structure. These types of issues that impact patient care can more easily be addressed by creating a forum to discuss. Consider creating a mentoring program with existing providers to help create a positive experience and provide an additional resource for physicians joining your practice.
Don’t stop developing your workforce
In order to help prevent employee burnout, continually engage physicians and further develop their skill set. New skills are needed as expectations and consumerism in healthcare evolve, and these can be developed in the existing workforce. Education programs and reimbursement for employment development opportunities can also be positioned as an employee benefit.
It’s also important to continually assess your workforce’s behavioral standards that impact patient care and productivity. Continue to identify areas with opportunities for growth (e.g., emotional intelligence, resilience, innovation, team collaboration, etc.) and work closely with your physicians and leaders to create specific action plans.
When identifying improvements for engagement, remember to not simply stop at the physician level. While physicians make a large impact and are highly regarded in the organization, remember that the majority of a healthcare system is comprised of many others that still have a large, direct impact on patient care, the patient experience, and key reimbursement categories. Career growth, opportunities for advancement and development, management, and flexibility/work-life balance are all top areas that influence personal engagement in the organization. With the abundance of evidence readily available, it is clear that the relationship of employee engagement with the organization makes a profound impact, including reducing compassion fatigue, employee burnout, and turnover while also seeing improvements in patient experience and clinical outcomes. It is no wonder why so many highly regarded frameworks (e.g., Magnet Models and Baldrige Excellence Framework) include a human resource focus for employees across the organization. Employee engagement trends are here to stay for a reason.
As we continue to see an increased demand of physicians in today’s tight labor market, physicians are feeling burned out at a higher rate and need support from their managers. Recognizing the stressors physicians experience and addressing them is key, as is adequately preparing new physicians during the interview and onboarding processes. The more managers can be open and transparent with physicians and stem burnout, the better retention will be among physicians across the board.
As managers and leaders in the healthcare industry, it’s up to us to help fight employee burnout and retain talent among physicians. By integrating best practices during every stage of an employee’s journey, we can prolong the inevitable physician shortage.
Jason Frizzell is a Senior Consultant, Healthcare Lead, on the Talent Solutions team with PSI. He earned a Master of Science degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Eastern Kentucky University and a Master of Health Administration from Ohio University. Jason also holds a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certification. He has experience in designing and implementing valid and legally defensible talent management systems within the healthcare, technology, manufacturing, retail, call center, mining, and transportation industries to help each in selecting and developing employees. His areas of expertise include selection, leadership development, competency modeling, job analysis, turnover, test/survey development, and talent management.