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Physician Retention: What Makes Physicians Stay?

Neal Waters
February 26, 2024

As the challenges involved with physician recruitment become more apparent, healthcare leaders increasingly recognize the importance of retaining the physicians they already have. Conversations about retention naturally arise during the recruitment process, as we encourage clients to think about finding the right long-term fit from the beginning.

Some attrition is natural, with the average annual turnover rate among physicians hovering at 6-7%. However, if leaders are attentive to the individual physician’s needs during the recruitment process and have a physician retention plan that addresses those needs, they will see retention rates improve.

As a regional vice president of recruiting for Jackson Physician Search, I oversee the recruiting process in the Eastern region. I have also spoken to thousands of physicians in my career, providing experience that enables me to coach our healthcare clients about how to approach physicians. Time and again, I’ve found that the key to retention is to think about it prior to placement, not after the physician starts.

Physician Retention Begins at Recruitment

Physician candidates notice every detail when considering whether or not to work for a healthcare organization. They pay attention to it all, from how the open position is presented in the job description to the quality of communications and sense of urgency from the recruiting organization to how they are treated leading up to an initial interview and during the onsite interview. Then, if all goes well, they may witness the expeditiousness of getting an offer, negotiating a contract, and answering all their questions.

By extending your best white-glove service while at the same time being authentic to your organization’s culture throughout the recruitment process, you have already started retaining that candidate. If everything feels like the right match, the physician may think, This is not only an organization I’m going to join, but also one I can see myself with long term.

3 Essential Steps for Physician Retention

Here are three ways to encourage your newly hired physicians to stay.

1. Utilize Mentorship Programs

Consider implementing and maintaining a program that assigns a newly hired physician to a mentor in your organization. The mentor’s role is to be a guiding light and answer questions about career advancement opportunities rather than only day-to-day work-related topics. Ideally, the mentor will be within the physician’s specialty and, possibly, an individual who is part of the organization’s administration. 

Mentorship opportunities not only level up your onboarding process throughout the first year the mentee is settling into a new position, but they also help increase engagement among those who take on the mentor role.

2. Be Transparent About Career Paths

Companies in all industries often have higher retention rates when employees are aware of potential career paths. In healthcare, however, some organizations pull back when it comes to sharing what job trajectories could look like for incoming physicians because administrators may think they’re offering a guarantee about certain promotions or employment tracks. But what you’re actually doing is providing information for them to use as they live and envision their lives, which is powerful. You don’t want physicians to lack confidence about what their paths might hold or lack knowledge about how they can aspire to higher levels.  Lay out what a future could look like for them, and talk about it earlier on and often. 

3. Build a Safe Environment for Active Two-Way Communication

CEOs and C-suite administrators may say they’re available for communication, but for various reasons, that doesn’t always happen. In a Jackson Physician Search report titled Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover, physicians said two-way communication with management and administrators was the most important factor in keeping them satisfied in their current positions. You can facilitate satisfaction by:

  • Offering physicians regular check-ins with C-level administrators.
  • Providing a safe environment for physicians to ask questions.
  • Being proactive about issues that come up to avoid being reactive when a physician notifies you that he or she is leaving.

Creating a safe environment for physicians includes communication, follow-through, and cultural considerations. Having a conversation on the front end, such as, “We want you to be happy, so if there’s ever anything going wrong, we want you to tell us.” If physicians do raise concerns, it’s important that they are heard, considered, and addressed. Physicians should not feel like their job, career, or status is threatened because they’ve voiced concerns about operational or other issues in the organization. 

Actively working on your healthcare organization’s retention practices should continue to be a significant, ongoing task. Documenting your commitments in a formal physician retention plan is important for making physicians aware of your intentions and holding leadership accountable for following through on intentions. Remember to provide the best experience possible to those you are recruiting from start to finish, as retention starts with the job description and continues throughout their careers.

About Neal Waters

Neal Waters brings more than 18 years of experience in retained physician search to his role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for Jackson Physician Search. He completed his undergraduate studies and played football at Auburn University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Neal loves physician recruitment and has an extreme passion for bringing healthcare to communities that need it while improving career opportunities and quality of life for physicians.

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