In the latest annual survey from the American College of Healthcare Executives, health executives ranked “staffing shortages” as their number one concern for the first time since 2004, bumping “financial challenges” from the top spot. It’s not difficult to surmise what may have caused the shift. Perhaps the short-term staffing crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic gave leaders a glimpse of what could happen long-term if provider and physician staffing shortages are not addressed. And compounding the problem, since the start of the pandemic, turnover among healthcare providers has gotten worse, heightening the concerns of healthcare leaders across the nation, and rightfully so.
In the ACHE survey, the reference to “staffing shortages” encompasses staff of all types. In fact, healthcare executives listed nursing shortages as the most pressing concern. However, fears of the physician shortage are nothing new and remain top of mind. The latest data from the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortage of between 37,800 to 124,000 physicians by the year 2034. Thus, it seems staffing shortages at every level are weighing on the minds of healthcare leaders.
While some circumstances contributing to provider and physician staffing shortages are out of your control, there are steps healthcare leaders can take now to reduce the impact of nationwide physician shortages at their organizations.
Focus on Physician Retention
While your instinct may be to prioritize recruitment strategies in response to potential physician shortages, the first line of defense is to retain your existing staff. Ideally, organizations have a formal physician retention program designed to support physicians, but the reality is that most do not. According to the JPS whitepaper: On the Verge of a Physician Turnover Epidemic, only 5% of employers report having a formal physician retention program. If your organization is among the majority that does not, the following data points may provide a good place to start.
In a recent Rural Recruitment Survey by Jackson Physician Search and LocumTenens.com, physicians were asked what would make them stay with their employers for the next five years. The overwhelming top response was “increased compensation or bonuses,” followed by “the ability to work part-time or flexible hours.” Bonuses may not be in the budget, but when weighed against the cost of a physician vacancy plus recruitment costs for a single physician, it may be worth it to explore the possibility.
Flexibility may also seem out of reach, or perhaps it feels counterintuitive to respond to staffing shortages by giving employees the option to decrease their hours. However, by giving employees what they need, you are more likely to retain them, and a part-time physician is better than no physician at all.
Bonuses and flexible schedules may help retain physicians, but they should be part of a broader physician retention plan that includes a personalized physician onboarding program, ongoing efforts to improve physician job satisfaction, and giving physicians a clear path to increased compensation, bonuses, and leadership opportunities. Offering this type of ongoing support will make you an employer of choice and differentiate you from other organizations.
Don’t put so much attention on hiring new employees that you neglect the needs of the ones you already have. Ask questions about what they like or don’t like about their jobs. How could circumstances improve? What would they need to stay on for another year, five years, or even ten?
If you’ve asked the right questions and used a variety of channels–surveys, one-on-ones, small group discussions–you should have a good idea of what your physicians need from you. Now is the time to respond with action. Take steps–even if small–to give employees what they need in order to stay.
Revisit Medical Staffing Plan
Now that you’re making efforts to retain your current staff, it’s time to think about recruitment. However, first, you must have a clear idea of exactly who, what, and when you need to hire. For this information, you need to revisit (or create) your medical staffing plan.
Your medical staffing plan should first consider the projected departures of current staff–that is, the timeline of upcoming physician retirements as well as the number of physicians approaching the average tenure for your organization (and therefore likely to leave). Other known upcoming absences such as parental leave and sabbaticals should also be noted and factored into recruitment needs.
Of course, your staffing needs don’t stem only from attrition but also from the anticipated growth of your organization. When revisiting the medical staffing plan, look at community needs and organizational goals. How many and what kind of staff will the organization need to meet the demand and hit those targets?
As you gain a clearer picture of who you need to recruit, also consider the potential of your current staff. Who among them may be ready to step into a leadership role? This type of succession planning will help you determine what kind of physicians or advanced practice providers you need to hire.
Consider your recruitment needs from every angle by revisiting your medical staffing plan, which should account for projected departures, anticipated growth, internal potential, and changes in care delivery. Leverage this information to outline a recruitment timeline detailing what type of provider you will need to hire and when.
Identify a Physician Recruitment Partner
The aforementioned steps are fairly straightforward, and yet, effective execution can be challenging–especially when you already have so much on your plate. Now is not the time to just do what you can and hope for the best. If your organization hopes to minimize the impact of future staffing shortages, you need a permanent physician recruitment partner to serve as an extension of your team. A full-service physician recruitment firm can help you create a recruitment timeline based on your medical staffing plan and the market data on time-to- fill for various physician specialties. Recruiters may even have creative alternatives for those positions that seem impossible to fill.
Whether you have open positions now or are just starting to consider your future physician staffing needs, it’s time to talk to a recruitment firm and find out how they may be able to help you with your specific situation.
The Jackson Physician Search Recruitment Team has a track record of success at healthcare organizations of all sizes and types throughout the nation. We have four regional offices staffed with recruiters who understand the nuances of the market in your part of the country. Contact us today and we will put you in touch with the team in your region.