How engaged are you at work? It’s a metric many employers track among physicians; however, “engagement” can be tough to define. Typically, it’s a catchall word encompassing feelings of satisfaction and loyalty toward one’s employer, but it also refers to how connected and stimulated one feels by their work.
In a 2021 study from Jackson Physician Search, we asked physicians to rate their engagement at work on a scale of 0 to 10. According to the results, 69% of physicians rated themselves as actively disengaged (0-6), 21% rated themselves as passively engaged (7 or 8), and only 10% said they were actively engaged (9 or 10). Those numbers improved slightly in a 2022 joint study with MGMA in which physicians, on average, rated themselves a 7.2 in terms of engagement. However, in the same survey, nearly half said they had considered a job with a different healthcare employer, and almost as many considered early retirement. Additionally, a third said they had considered leaving healthcare altogether. These indications are some of many concerning metrics causing healthcare leaders nationwide to ask, “What can we do to improve physician engagement?”
How are Employers Addressing Physician Engagement?
Burnout, satisfaction, engagement, and retention are frequently discussed together due to the tendency for one to impact the other. Studies show decreased engagement correlates with higher burnout levels, negatively affecting physician retention. Amid a worsening physician shortage, most employers recognize the importance of retaining physicians and are prioritizing burnout mitigation programs and implementing strategies to improve job satisfaction and increase engagement. You may see examples of this at your organization in wellness programs, mental health coaching, flex time, physician forums, enhanced communication measures, or even additional compensation and paid leave. Many employers are trying to improve work circumstances and create an environment that fosters work-life balance for physicians.
5 Steps Physicians Can Take to Improve Their Own Engagement
The above may ring true for you, or it may not. Unfortunately, not every employer takes additional steps to improve the physician experience. What can these physicians do to increase their own engagement at work, improve job satisfaction, and pull themselves out of a career slump? The obvious answer may be to start a new physician job search, but before officially closing the chapter, consider some of the following strategies.
Raise your Hand
Make connections and get involved to help you feel more engaged. Of course, if you are already feeling overworked and underappreciated, the last thing you may want to do is sign up for a committee or volunteer to be a mentor. Yet, this may be the very thing you need to connect with your peers and remind yourself why you chose the profession.
Another way to feel more involved is to improve communication with your administration or practice manager. In the joint JPS-MGMA study, physicians reported two-way communication with management as the top factor contributing to their work satisfaction — even above compensation. Ideally, you already have regular one-on-one meetings with your practice administrator, but if not, it’s time to request them. Use these meetings to address issues and propose solutions to improve circumstances. Feeling heard is critical to increasing engagement at work.
A job well done deserves recognition, and yet, in the 2021 Jackson Physician Search survey, only 23% of physicians reported that their employers have formal recognition programs. Do your part by emphasizing the excellent work of your colleagues and being intentional with compliments. Being generous with recognition creates a culture of encouragement and positive reinforcement.
Initiate your Own Development
If you have leadership goals, don’t hesitate to make this known to your direct supervisor and other leaders in the organization. Seek out training programs and ask for audit discussions where decisions will be made. Identify someone whose career you admire and ask him or her to be your mentor. Create a plan to make the most of your physician mentorship and advocate for your own development.
Set Small Goals for Yourself
Where do you see yourself five or ten years from now? Whether or not you see yourself with the same employer, there are still steps you can take today to help you achieve your goals. Determine what those steps may be and push yourself to move forward. Find a peer to keep you accountable and for whom you can also be a source of encouragement.
Ask for Autonomy
One of the primary causes of physician burnout is a lack of autonomy. That is, physicians who feel they could make a difference with patients but cannot due to constraints beyond a doctor’s control are most likely to suffer from burnout. Talk to your administrator about reclaiming autonomy when feeling disengaged at work. While there are no easy answers to this complex issue, starting the conversation is a critical first step.
Of course, in some instances, these strategies won’t be enough to improve physician engagement, and it is potentially time to search for a new physician job. If this is the case for you, we would love to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Jackson Physician Search team today to assist you with your search, or start searching for physician jobs online now.
About Helen Falkner
As the daughter of a physician, and an Iowa native, Helen has witnessed firsthand the impact that 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 both an individual contributor and manager, Falkner progressed quickly to Partner in 2018 and assumed her role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for JPS’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.