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How to Level-Up Your Physician Onboarding as a Path to Retention

Tara Osseck
February 12, 2024

If your healthcare organization views physician recruitment and physician retention as separate, individual activities, it’s time to start thinking of them as two sides of the same coin. The best way to do that is to commit to a formal physician onboarding process that begins from the moment candidates accept your offer and extends through their first year of employment.

As an in-house recruiter for nearly eight years and as someone who works with high-performing healthcare organizations all over the country, I’ve seen firsthand that organizations with the lowest turnover rates and more long-tenured physicians have leaders who view onboarding as a critical step in retention. They realize that a comprehensive onboarding process sets the tone for the entire relationship and are willing to invest time and resources in a comprehensive physician onboarding process. 

Whether your healthcare organization is small and rural, large and urban, or suburban, a formal onboarding process can be as straightforward as integrating three key tactics: a dedicated touch point, a full calendar year of check-ins, and an expectation that the physician will participate and engage.

Make One Person a Touchpoint

Whether it is a potential mentor or a peer with common interests, assigning one person in the practice/organization (not HR or the physician’s supervisor) to be a touch point for the new hire is a great way to create a connection and make the physician feel welcome. Ideally, it’s someone who can answer questions about the little and big things involved in starting a job with a new practice, particularly if the newcomer is moving, bringing a family along, or otherwise in the midst of a big transition.

Know that early-career physicians, and the younger generations in general, are the least likely to proactively seek out a mentor – even though they are the group most likely to need physician mentorship. By assigning a physician to be the new hire’s point-person for onboarding, you are paving the way for a mentor relationship to develop naturally. 

Physicians beginning to sunset their careers are great candidates for formal or informal mentorship, and many seek ways to support the next generation of physicians. Their institutional knowledge, networks in and outside the organization, and insights into the patient population are unmatched.

Design an Onboarding Process that Lasts One Year

It is common for healthcare leaders to think of physician onboarding as a two-week process that ends once new hires have their badges, computers, business cards, and white coats. However, an ideal onboarding process should span the new physicians’ entire first year of employment.

When you’re committed to onboarding as a path to retention, you’ll naturally create a process that extends past that initial two weeks and provides for check-ins over the course of the new hire’s first year of employment. Use those check-ins informally to inquire about how they are settling into the practice, facility, or community. Also, use them as formal check-ins to walk through any reports you are monitoring, such as financial performance data or productivity models that factor into salaries and bonuses. Not only does this cement the relationship, but it’s also a high-touch practice that can help you identify issues before they become problems.

Set Expectations for Physician Participation 

My team works with a specialty practice that has historically struggled to recruit and retain early-career physicians. Because they have a very focused scope of practice, they have resisted recruiting these candidates and, as a result, have limited the number of potential candidates in their pool. As almost a last-ditch effort, they agreed to reconsider their onboarding as a retention tool, which has transformed their practice.

Rather than limiting their onboarding to a short few weeks, we helped them create a 30-day, high-touch onboarding process, and we identified an up-and-coming practice leader to serve as a touchpoint throughout the new hires’ first year of employment. As a result, two early-career physicians we recruited and placed with them in 2020 are thriving in the practice today, stepping into leadership roles and poised to be long-tenure partners who will grow with the practice. It has worked because they implemented a process and set an expectation that the new, early-career physicians would participate.

The difference between a formal and informal onboarding process often comes down to the expectations that you set. Your new physicians should understand that their participation in the process, the relationship building, and the regular check-ins are both wanted and expected. Invite them into the process by letting them know what to expect and encourage their participation by giving them the chance to ask questions.

From experience and our research, we know that today’s early-career physicians’ first jobs post-training are likely to be shorter-term, often leaving after only 2 years. To avoid letting this contribute to your turnover rates, set your practice or facility up for success by acknowledging that you’ll need to do more to bring these valuable recruits into your practice for the long term.

How effective is your onboarding process? The Jackson Physician Search recruitment team will work with you to ensure your new hires receive the onboarding they need to build a lasting career. Contact us today to learn more.

About Tara Osseck

With more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Tara Osseck specializes in matching healthcare organizations with physicians who are a strong fit for the role and the culture. Her healthcare career began as a physician liaison. It quickly expanded to include physician recruitment, strategic planning, and business development, working for various hospitals throughout Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri. Based in St. Louis, Osseck leads the firm’s Midwest Division, placing providers across the Midwest and Upper Midwest. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Truman State University and a master’s in health care administration and management from The University of Memphis.

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