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5 Ways to Support Retiring Physicians and Reduce the Impact on Your Organization

Helen Falkner
February 14, 2024

Is your organization expecting an incoming wave of physician retirements? A 2022 report from AAMC shows that nearly half of physicians were 55 or older in 2021. If this holds true for your organization, the next seven years will see two in five physicians reaching retirement age. Beyond age, rising physician burnout is also impacting the volume of retirements. In a 2023 Physician Retirement Study from Jackson Physician Search, one in four physicians said they expected burnout would be the primary force driving them to retire. Given the disproportionate number of physicians reaching retirement age and the prevalence of burnout leading even younger physicians to retire prematurely, it is imperative for your organization to start thinking about the impact of these departures.

If you want time to plan, it’s better to initiate retirement talks sooner rather than later and prepare for how to respond. In the aforementioned retirement research, we found that most physicians believe six months is enough notice to give an employer when retiring. In contrast, a majority of employers would prefer one to two years. Whether you decide to initiate the retirement conversation or wait for retiring physicians to come to you, there are several things you can offer to ease the transition for all parties involved. Keep reading to find out how you can support your physicians while easing the impact of retirements on your organization. 

1. Open Communication

Establishing an environment that fosters open communication is beneficial for multiple reasons, but it becomes especially crucial if you want physicians to feel comfortable with transparent discussions about their retirement plans. Make two-way communication with management a priority and ensure supervisors regularly meet with physicians. This allows retirement conversations to start organically when physicians are just starting to think about retirement. Being involved in the process during this early stage allows the physician and the administrator to work together to create a plan that meets the physician’s needs and sets the organization up for success. Talking points should include: 

Retirement Timeline – Identify a retirement date and determine if or when the physician will begin to scale back, notify patients, transfer knowledge, etc.

Transition Expectations – Discuss what is expected of both parties in the months and weeks leading up to retirement in terms of notifying patients, transferring responsibilities, buying out the partnership, etc.

Succession Planning – Considerations for replacing the retiring physician, including documenting responsibilities, knowledge transfer, and new hire training.

2. Flexible Work Arrangements

Contrary to what many administrators believe, most physicians would like a slow transition to full retirement. According to the Jackson Physician Search retirement research, just 12% of physicians intend to retire and stop working altogether. Nearly half (43%) of physicians hope to reduce their work hours in the years leading up to retirement, and a third of physicians plan to retire from their current job and work locum tenens or work part- or full-time with another organization. 

So, perhaps more than anything else, retiring physicians need flexibility and creativity in terms of work arrangements. Most administrators are open to part-time hours, and nearly half are willing to reduce or eliminate call duties for retiring physicians. Other options include telecommuting, job sharing, or locum opportunities. These accommodations allow retiring physicians to scale back and reduce stress without stepping away completely.  

Some administrators may resist this idea, citing concerns about supporting a new physician while the retiring physician is still on staff. However, it typically takes two new physicians to generate the productivity of a single retiring physician, so the practice can confidently move forward in bringing on someone new while the retiring physician is scaling back. Find ways to allow retiring physicians to keep contributing in some capacity for as long as they are willing.

3. Mentorship Opportunities

Another way retiring physicians can continue contributing is by mentoring younger physicians on staff. Beyond training potential successors, retiring physicians should be encouraged to work with the new generation of physicians to educate and share wisdom that only comes with decades of experience. This benefits the delivery of patient care within the practice in years to come and allows retiring physicians to make a broader impact and leave knowing they have shaped the future of healthcare.

4. Recognition 

While there is much to do leading up to a physician’s retirement, leadership mustn’t overlook the need to formally acknowledge the retiring physician’s contributions and achievements. Host a retirement celebration that allows colleagues and management to express gratitude for the retiree’s dedication and hard work. This not only rewards the leaving physicians but also demonstrates to the physicians still on staff that leadership sees, values, and respects all that physicians do for the organization.

5. Logistical Assistance

Organizations can go above and beyond by offering retirement planning workshops for physicians approaching the later stages of their careers. These may cover financial considerations, healthcare options, and lifestyle adjustments. As retirement draws nearer, access to counseling services, support networks, and resources to address the emotional and psychological aspects of retirement may also be beneficial. Offering this support demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of retiring physicians and reinforces to other physicians that the organization values them as people.

How an organization supports physicians through the retirement process is a testament to how much it values its workforce. By offering open communication, schedule flexibility, mentorship opportunities, recognition, and support, administrators can create a positive retirement experience for physicians and ensure a smooth transition. This will not only reduce any negative impact on the practice, but it will also improve overall physician relations and contribute to a positive workplace culture.

Is your organization expecting a physician to retire in the coming months or years? The team at Jackson Physician Search has the expertise to guide you through the timeline and help you find a replacement who will fit, succeed, and stay. Reach out today to learn more.

About Helen Falkner

As the daughter of a physician and an Iowa native, Helen has witnessed firsthand the impact a great physician can have on a community. She joined Jackson Physician Search at the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, GA, as an entry-level Research Consultant in 2012. Through her consistent success as an individual contributor and manager, Falkner progressed quickly to Partner in 2018 and assumed her role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for Jackson Physician Search’s Western Division in October 2020. In January 2021, she relocated to the firm’s Denver office, where she leads a team of successful physician recruiters while actively continuing to recruit for her clients.

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