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How to Increase Retention Among Newly Trained Physicians

Jackson Physician Search
September 4, 2023

How long do physicians stay in their first jobs? According to one oft-cited study, half of newly trained physicians leave their first jobs before the five-year mark, and half of those will leave after just one or two years. It’s true that younger generations may have different expectations about how long they should stay with a single employer, but when it comes to physicians, these turnover numbers are especially concerning.

Healthcare organizations are already feeling the impact of a worsening physician shortage, and any physician departure is followed by a challenging and expensive recruitment process. As a result, many healthcare leaders should place increased importance on retaining the physicians they already have. That said, in a 2022 joint MGMA-Jackson Physician Search study, only 19% of healthcare administrators reported having a formal physician retention plan at their organizations. Thus, developing and implementing a physician retention plan that addresses the needs of physicians at all stages of their careers must be a priority for organizations still without.

When we talk about physician retention, we often focus on delaying the exit of those physicians nearing retirement age, but just as important is extending the tenure of physicians hired out of training. By understanding and addressing this group’s specific needs–communication, mentorship, work-life balance–organizations can improve retention rates among a population at high risk of making an early exit.

Physician Retention Begins with Recruitment

A top priority of the recruitment process must be determining if there is a good cultural fit between the hiring organization and the candidate. So, it’s not only, “Is the candidate qualified to do the job?” but “Will they be happy doing it in this specific environment?” If the organization hopes to retain that physician beyond a year or two, the answer must be a clear ‘yes’ on both counts. This is why we counsel clients so much on evaluating candidates for cultural fit.

Transparency in the recruitment process will also positively influence retention rates. The more a candidate knows and understands about what is expected of them and what they can expect, the more likely they are to be satisfied with the job and build a career with the organization.

Physician Retention Requires Strategic Onboarding

A smooth recruitment process is essential, but the red carpet treatment shouldn’t stop when the contract is signed. Newly hired physicians–especially those who have recently completed training–should follow a detailed physician onboarding process that communicates key information over a scheduled timeline. This will eliminate (or at least minimize) any confusion or uncertainty they may feel in those first weeks on the job and give them confidence in their ability to do the job long term.

Multiple studies point to the importance of physician onboarding and its impact on physician job satisfaction and retention, and yet in a 2021 physician retention study, one in three physicians said they received no formal orientation from their employer. Organizations must improve their efforts in this area by focusing on clear communication, connecting physicians with colleagues, and creating a plan for success. This will set physicians up for success and increase the likelihood that they will want to stay.

Focus on Communication to Retain New Physicians

In a joint JPS-MGMA study, physicians reported two-way communication with management as the top factor contributing to their work satisfaction — even above compensation. This reinforces the need to focus on clear communication between physicians, supervisors, and administration. The physician retention plan should specify the expected frequency of one-on-one meetings with supervisors, physician forums, and other opportunities for physicians to express opinions and address their needs.

Be Transparent About Compensation

In the aforementioned study, compensation was second on the list of factors contributing to physician job satisfaction. Of course, physicians want to be fairly compensated for their work, but due to the often complicated structure of physician compensation plans, they may feel left in the dark about how their paychecks are calculated. The physician retention plan should clearly state the details so that every physician knows where they stand and what they need to do to achieve the next level.

As new physicians approach the end of their guaranteed salary, assign a mentor to help them plan for the transition and ensure they are on track to exceed their productivity goals when they move from the guarantee.

Prioritize Balance for Better Physician Retention

Younger generations place increased value on work-life balance as they understand the critical role it plays in their own mental health. If healthcare organizations hope to retain newly trained physicians, they must commit to flexible schedules, paid time off, and when possible, remote options. Be willing to bring in locums if needed to ensure employed physicians get the time off they have been promised.

While adequate time off is important, administrative burdens and patient loads must also be manageable. Newly trained physicians want to enjoy the work they are doing without the high levels of stress and burnout reported by those who came before them. As a healthcare administrator, commit to a staffing plan that provides adequate support for all physicians.

Physician retention policies impact physicians at all stages of their careers, however, leadership can take additional steps to target retention efforts at newly trained physicians, who we know are at risk for making an early exit. Retaining young physicians will require recruiting for cultural fit, clear and consistent communication, transparent compensation structures, and a commitment to work-life balance. By addressing the issues that matter most to younger generations, healthcare administrators will become employers of choice where new physicians want to build their careers.

If your organization is focused on recruiting physicians simply to keep up with attrition, it can be difficult to find the resources to think about a formal physician retention plan. Perhaps it’s time to partner with a national physician recruitment firm so that you can shift your team’s focus to retention. Reach out to Jackson Physician Search today to learn how we can support your efforts.

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