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How to Improve Physician Retention Through Effective Physician Onboarding

Jackson Physician Search
October 20, 2021

Dr. J took a deep breath before entering the building. She was excited to begin this next step in her career but she dreaded the learning curve she knew she was about to face. Throughout her career, she’d had several first days on the job. So she was all too aware of how much she had to learn about her new employer’s policies, culture, politics – the things they don’t exactly cover in the interview process. What she didn’t know was how much help she would have getting acclimated… she hoped for the best and swung open the door.

What lies ahead for Dr. J largely depends on the effectiveness of her employer’s physician onboarding process. Ideally, this is not only an immediate orientation but also, a long-term initiative to integrate her into the organization as a fully functioning member of the team. A comprehensive physician onboarding program will cover policies and provide logistical training while focusing on connecting the new hire with colleagues and assisting them with creating a ramp-up plan.

In this article, we’ll look at why an effective physician onboarding process is so important and how organizations can extend the positivity of the recruitment experience to the new physician’s first weeks and months on the job. By helping newly hired physicians quickly feel at ease in their jobs, organizations will decrease physician burnout, enhance job satisfaction, and improve retention rates – all of which directly impacts the organization’s bottom line, and most importantly, ensures consistent access to patient care.

The Importance of Effective Physician Onboarding

According to a recent physician retention survey from Jackson Physician Search, one in three physicians receive no formal orientation upon starting a new job. This means a third of organizations are overlooking this important part of the new hire process. In fact, only 29% of physician respondents said their employer provided an individualized orientation program. The other third received a general orientation. Why does this matter?

You’re all too aware of the fact that physicians have choices, and if their first weeks on the job are filled with frustration and confusion, they may start to think they’ve made the wrong one. It may not happen right away, but if they aren’t given the information they need to succeed, they aren’t likely to stay very long. This is true across industries, according to data from Glassdoor, a thorough onboarding program can improve new hire retention by 82%.

Setting new physicians up for success with a comprehensive onboarding experience is critical for physician satisfaction and retention, which of course, directly impacts the organization’s bottom line. When a physician resigns or retires, it can cost the hospital hundreds of thousands in recruitment costs and lost revenue.

3 Components of Thorough Physician Onboarding

With so much at stake, it’s crucial that organizations give adequate attention to physician onboarding programs. Many have become masters at the recruiting process. They roll out the red carpet and devote full attention to the prospective candidate. However, once the contract is signed, many of those same organizations roll back up the carpet and turn attention elsewhere, leaving physicians to find their own way.

Focus on these three components to ensure your new hires feel welcome and supported as they quickly reach productivity.

1. Communicate Information

Physicians are often used to being the smartest people in the room, so those first days or weeks of not knowing and relying on others to show them how to do things can be rough. For this reason, the sooner you can give your new physician the information they need to be successful, the happier they will be.

Consider beginning the orientation process before the new hire’s first day on the job. Send forms and other paperwork prior to the start date. A video welcome or organization overview is fine, but this is not a replacement for personalized training. Make sure they know exactly what to do on their first day – what time to arrive, where to park, which door to enter, and who to ask for upon arrival.

There is a lot of information to cover, so it may be useful to develop a checklist of items to show, assign, or explain to the new physician. This might include everything from break room codes to EMR training to explaining the on-call scheduling. Reference this physician orientation checklist from the Sullivan Group or this onboarding checklist from The Rheumatologist for a useful starting point. Make sure to identify which items are most important for functioning on day one (think, access badge and/or bathroom key), and be sure to address those first.

2. Connect with Colleagues

Effective onboarding shouldn’t feel like an information dump but rather a gradual education on all things related to the organization. The new physician shouldn’t (and can’t!) learn everything they need to know on day one, but they should go home knowing the names of several colleagues of whom they can ask questions.

An effective way to do this is to assign a peer mentor or ambassador to each new physician. This mentor serves as the first point of contact, so new hires don’t feel lost in those early days. The mentor should also introduce the physician to designated contacts in each department. These contacts should schedule time with the new physician to orient them to the department and go over relevant information.

According to an HCI survey cited by Sapling HR, 87% of organizations that assign an ambassador or buddy during onboarding say it’s an effective way to speed up new hire productivity. While productivity is important, establishing those initial connections also begins the critical socialization of the new physician. This is key because forming relationships at work directly impacts how happy employees are on the job. Research cited by the National Business Research Institute states that job satisfaction increases 50% when an employee has a close relationship on the job. So go beyond a mentor program and plan a welcome lunch or other social activities that encourage the new physician to form relationships with colleagues.

3. Create a Plan

An often overlooked aspect of the physician onboarding process is creating a plan for success. The physician needs time to get acclimated, and the onboarding program should be designed to help them manage that time. Review the physician onboarding checklist and assign a time for completing each item. Indicate what must be done in the first week, first month, two months, etc. The physician should discuss the timeframe with his or her supervisor so that expectations are clear. Schedule monthly check-ins to evaluate progress.

While it benefits all parties for the physician to ramp up quickly, the onboarding timeline shouldn’t place undue pressure on the new hire. The schedule should help them plan their time so they can absorb information at a manageable pace.

So what is the right pace? Studies suggest the longer the better. In a study cited by the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment, it appears that healthcare organizations with a longer onboarding process have lower turnover during the critical early years of practice. More specifically, those with an onboarding program that lasts one full year report a significantly lower turnover rate between physicians’ second and third years of practice at 10.5% versus 17.4% for organizations with 30-day onboarding programs.


Multiple studies point to the importance of physician onboarding and its impact on physician job satisfaction and retention, and yet one in three physicians reports that they received no formal orientation from their employer. Organizations must improve their efforts in this area. By focusing on communicating key information over a scheduled timeline, connecting physicians with colleagues, and creating a plan for success, physicians will feel welcomed as they easily integrate into their new organizations. Having this initial positive experience is likely to lead to long-term job satisfaction and improved retention, ultimately saving the organization money and ensuring consistent access to care.

If your organization is seeking a new physician who will quickly ramp up and easily integrate with the team, contact Jackson Physician Search today.

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