The healthcare industry continues to wrestle with how to solve the looming physician shortage, and now it appears that COVID-19 will make it even more challenging. Prior to the pandemic, more than one-third of practicing physicians were already at or anticipated to reach age 65 within the decade. Combined with the reality that the virus is more dangerous for this population segment, the financial strain of reduced patient volumes and canceled elective surgeries, and increasing rates of physician burnout, doctors already close to retirement may be on a fast-track to leaving medicine early.
A recent survey by Medscape, which garnered responses from more than 5,000 U.S. physicians, uncovered that 25% of doctors plan to retire earlier than originally planned. Clearly, what was once a challenge fueled by typical age-related retirements has now been exacerbated by factors created by the pandemic.
A 62-year-old physician in California described how the pandemic impacted the way he feels about his ENT practice in a Marketplace.org article. “COVID definitely accelerated what I would call my ultimate burnout. The financial strains of dealing with COVID … patients not wanting to come in … Very much not good for telehealth.” In the end, the ENT couldn’t sell his practice, so he closed it and retired early.
5 Ways to Reduce the Impact of Early Physician Retirements
Whatever the reasons may be, COVID or otherwise, a percentage of your physicians are considering retirement or, at a minimum, changes within their career. Mitigating the downsides of losing physicians early requires a plan. Here are a few things to consider to help you navigate these potential physician vacancies.
- Recognize that it is Likely Going to be an Issue for Your Healthcare Facility. One of the worst things healthcare administrators can do is pretend that the pandemic fallout we have been discussing won’t happen in their organization. In their own words, physicians have stated that the events of the past year have had an impact on how they view their careers. If you have physician staff at or nearing retirement age, you can be certain that if they weren’t seriously considering retirement before COVID, they are now. It is also important to keep in mind that your physician staff at all ages have been impacted by the pandemic, and many of them may be considering alternative career options.
- Establish Open Lines of Communication. Let’s face it, the pandemic has been unnerving for all of us, and none more so than frontline healthcare workers. Physicians already suffer from the effects of stress and burnout at higher rates than much of the U.S. population. Most healthcare administrators are painfully aware of these tragic numbers and have programs in place to help their staff cope. Encouragement and promoting the availability of counseling services for staff is needed more than ever.
For the retirement conundrum specifically, the most important thing you can do is have the conversation. A pre-pandemic Jackson Physician Search survey of 550 physicians and 100 administrators shed significant light on how both sides viewed the retirement discussion. Most physicians (80%) feel it is their responsibility to raise the topic of retirement, but just 52% felt comfortable doing so. Only 37% of administrators responded that it was their responsibility to initiate the retirement conversation, but overwhelmingly (74%) indicated that they were comfortable having them.
The above illustrates that while physicians feel obligated to share their retirement plans with leadership, they may not be comfortable doing so. This presents an opportunity for administrators to develop communication mechanisms that facilitate a means for the retirement conversation. Whether that is driven by human resources or through direct conversations between leadership and staff, the bottom line is physicians are planning their retirement, and you need to know about it.
Additionally, physicians and administrators have vastly different opinions on what the ideal notice period is for a retirement timeline. Almost 50 percent of administrators indicated the ideal notice was one to three years, while 40 percent of physicians felt six months or less was sufficient.
- Rely on Recruitment Best Practices. With the number of physician vacancies expected to rise post-pandemic, understanding physician recruitment metrics can serve you well. With each physician vacancy potentially costing $150,000 or more per month in lost revenue, having gaps or inefficiencies in your recruitment processes can be financially devastating. While each specialty is different, a six, nine, or even 12 recruitment timeline is not unrealistic and further illustrates the importance of knowing which of your staff is considering retirement. Embracing new, digital sourcing strategies is an effective way to reach more candidates and are designed to keep you connected across social platforms where physicians are already active. The key to physician recruitment in today’s market is to find ways to reach the passive candidates who aren’t actively looking but are willing to consider an opportunity if it is right for them.
- Plan to be Flexible. Doing things the way you always have is not an effective strategy for retaining your physician staff. A case in point can be found in the aforementioned Jackson Physician Search survey. When a physician says that they are planning to retire, 40% of administrators believe that it means they are leaving medicine entirely. However, only 17% of physicians say that they are planning to retire completely. Many are planning to work at least part-time, and some even full-time at another healthcare organization. Understanding this dynamic leaves the door open for you to find creative ways to keep your retirement-age physicians engaged while you manage pending vacancies. Especially in this current environment, presenting “win-win” opportunities can help ease the transition to full or partial retirement.
- Engage a Strategic Recruitment Partner. Depending on the size of your physician recruitment team and their competing demands, consider the benefits of having a strong recruitment partner in your corner. A trusted physician search partner, like Jackson Physician Search, can supplement your existing recruitment teams. The key is to find a partner with access to a nationwide network and a full suite of digital recruitment tools that can maximize the pool of candidates available to you. It is always a sound strategy to acquire access to healthcare industry experts who can provide the resources and advice to keep you ahead of your retirement curve.
If you need a strategic recruitment partner to help you navigate physician recruiting during the pandemic and beyond, Jackson Physician Search is ready to help every step of the way. Contact our experienced recruitment professionals today to learn more about the difference we can make for your physician staffing needs.