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Increasing Engagement Among Employed Physicians

Jackson Physician Search
January 17, 2024

How engaged are the physicians at your organization? Though physician engagement isn’t discussed as often as physician burnout or physician retention, it is often a factor that influences both. Studies suggest physicians who report lower levels of engagement are more likely to report feelings of burnout and a desire to leave their jobs. Most employers recognize the importance of retaining physicians, and yet they may be missing the critical role of physician engagement.

In a 2021 study from Jackson Physician Search, physicians were asked to rate their levels of 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 looked slightly better in a 2022 joint study with MGMA in which physicians, on average, rated themselves a 7.7 in terms of engagement. However, in the same survey, more than half said they had considered taking a different job in healthcare, and a third said they had considered leaving healthcare altogether – both data points indicating low engagement.

How Does Employment Impact Physician Engagement?

One thing these studies did not control for is physician employment. However, one might conjecture that employed physicians feel lower engagement than physicians with an ownership stake in the practice. After all, workplace engagement is generally defined as how connected employees feel and how committed they are to the success of the employing organization. It makes sense that a physician owner is more likely to feel committed to the success of the practice.

This differentiation is important because the last decade has seen a significant shift away from physician practice ownership. The latest analysis from the American Medical Association found the percentage of physicians in private practice (including those employed by a physician-owned practice) fell from 60.1% in 2012 to 47.6% in 2022. The percentage of physicians employed by a hospital or hospital-owned practice grew from 29% to 40.9% collectively. If employed physicians indeed feel less engaged, the trend toward physician employment suggests the problem of low physician engagement will only get worse.

Understanding why employed physicians report low engagement is critical to rectifying the problem. Physicians don’t necessarily have to be financially invested in the practice to feel engaged, but they do need to feel like their work is making an impact. Many employers address burnout and retention problems with wellness programs, mental health coaching, or time off. However, increasing engagement requires a more nuanced approach that raises the stakes for physicians and makes them see how and why their work matters – even if they are not financially benefitting as a partner.  

Physician Engagement Starts with Communication

It may seem obvious, but engaging with physicians is the best way to increase engagement with them. That is, leaders should talk to physicians regularly – in one-on-one meetings, in physician forums and panels, and in casual conversations in the hallway. Administrators should develop multiple touchpoints and feedback channels. 

Of course, effective communication doesn’t end with a survey or suggestion box. Healthcare leaders must listen to physicians in order to understand their challenges, but the goal of these conversations should be to identify potential solutions. Not every idea will be successful, so it’s critical to measure the impact of the change and share outcomes with physicians. Focusing on improving communication with physicians in these ways will inevitably improve physician engagement as well.

Increase Physician Engagement by Involving Physicians in Decisions

Give physicians an opportunity to weigh in on decisions that impact the practice, its patients, and staff. Make sure each physician has a way to share opinions and express ideas, either through regular one-on-one meetings with a supervisor, quarterly physician forums, or inviting several representatives to speak on behalf of the group. Don’t just invite them to share their thoughts; listen to what they have to say and allow it to influence outcomes. By actively listening to physicians, healthcare organizations validate their expertise and create an environment where they feel valued and can see their influence impacting the organization.

Develop Physician Leaders Through Mentorship and Leadership Training

Offering leadership training to employed physicians is crucial to increasing their engagement. Show them that you are invested in developing them as leaders, and they are more likely to feel a commitment to the organization. Identify potential physician leaders and assign them a physician executive mentor. Give them a front-row seat to the decision-making process so they can watch, learn, and understand how and why policies are adopted and implemented. More transparency will allow them to see the organization as an owner might, and thus, make them start thinking – and engaging – accordingly.

Engaging physicians must be a primary goal of employers who hope to retain their workforce. In order to make physicians feel more committed to the organization, they must be given a voice, invited to participate in decisions, and offered leadership and development training. Physicians who understand the business of healthcare will feel more engaged in their jobs and perhaps be poised to take on a physician leadership role in the future.

If your organization is seeking a physician who will be engaged and eager to grow, the team at Jackson Physician Search has the national reach and regional expertise to identify the best candidates for the job. Contact us today to learn more.

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