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3 Mistakes To Avoid In Your Physician Succession Planning

Jackson Physician Search
November 17, 2021

Does it feel like recruiting and retaining physicians is more challenging than ever? Whether due to the impact of COVID-19 on physician jobs or increasing physician retirements, a perceived spike in physician turnover weighs heavily on the minds of healthcare leaders.

So, how are medical practice managers and healthcare administrators coping with the changing physician workforce? A recent survey, commissioned by Jackson Physician Search in partnership with Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), aimed to discover what efforts exist within medical practices to improve physician recruitment, engagement, retention, and succession planning. The resulting whitepaper, Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover in Medical Practices, details the findings of the survey.

Not surprisingly, both physicians and administrators acknowledge high levels of physician burnout, attributed to a variety of causes. However, physicians and administrators have differing views on how burnout is addressed. With respect to physician succession planning, administrators acknowledge its importance, rating it a 7.5 out of 10, and yet only 16% of respondents have a written, formal succession plan. Thus, 84% are overlooking the most proactive step they can take to prepare for inevitable physician turnover.

In recent articles, we’ve discussed the importance of physician succession planning as a way to defend against the negative impact of physician turnover. We discussed the 3 types of succession plans every organization needs as well as the 8 steps to physician succession planning. Here, we will review what we’ve learned and discuss common mistakes to avoid when developing physician succession plans.

Physician Succession Planning: Why, What, and How

Nothing raises the temperature in a practice like a physician giving notice. The burden is felt at every level of the practice. From office staff calling patients to reschedule future appointments, to physicians taking on additional responsibilities, to leadership screening and interviewing candidates – everyone feels the stress of physician turnover. A physician succession plan allows organizations to prepare for turnover before it happens. By forecasting physician hiring needs 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.

Organizations should have three types of succession plans: 1) a physician leader succession plan, 2) a general succession plan, and 3) a short-term/emergency plan. Creating the plan is a multi-step process, primarily involving researching and forecasting trends, crafting detailed job descriptions, pairing potential leaders with mentors, and partnering with a recruitment firm. The process will look a little different for every organization, though there are some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

3 Common Physician Succession Plan Mistakes

1. Thinking It’s All About Recruiting

While it’s true that successful physician recruitment begins with succession planning, don’t make the mistake of thinking a physician succession plan is all about recruiting. Research and forecasting is a critical first step that will allow you to better understand your physicians’ retirement timelines. Gathering information to create job descriptions and implementing a training or mentor program are also important pieces of physician succession planning that organizations often forget. In the MGMA and JPS study, fewer than half of those administrators who reported having a succession plan, said the plan included a mentorship program. Succession plans that only focus on external recruitment will come up short when it comes to promoting internal candidates and developing leaders.

2. Not Partnering With a National Physician Recruitment Firm

On the other hand, while it’s not all about recruiting, you don’t want to overlook the need for a respected, national recruitment partner. Having an established relationship with a physician recruitment firm allows you to nurture a pipeline of candidates and launch a search quickly if needed. Using your research and retirement timeline, your recruitment partner can also advise on how long it takes to recruit and hire physicians in a variety of specialties and levels of leadership, so you will know when to launch the search. (Spoiler alert – it’s likely much sooner than you think.)

3. Underestimating the Duties of Physicians

When a physician resigns, the immediate concern is coverage for that physician’s patients, however, chances are good that your physician wears a lot more hats than you realize. A critical part of succession planning involves collecting detailed information about what each physician does so that you know 1) what responsibilities will need to be delegated or outsourced until a replacement can be found, 2) what kind of training is needed for potential internal candidates, and 3) what exactly should be listed in the posted job description. This step is important not only for physicians in leadership positions but for physicians at every level. Most physicians do a lot more than treat patients, and it’s best to know exactly what they are juggling before those balls are dropped.

Of course, the biggest mistake of all is not having any kind of physician succession plan in place. Even prior to COVID-19 and the recent surge in retirements, the average rate of physician turnover was estimated at 7%. That means 7% of physicians leave their jobs each year, so it’s likely that every practice will be impacted to some degree every year. Why wouldn’t you want to prepare for the inevitable? By forecasting likely turnover and charting the course of action accordingly, healthcare organizations can avoid a disruption to patient care and ease the additional stress placed on physicians and staff, ultimately improving their job satisfaction and retention.

If you are seeking a recruitment partner as part of your physician succession planning, Jackson Physician Search is ready to assist. Contact us today.

Also, learn more about creating effective succession plans by downloading the whitepaper: Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover in Medical Practices.

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