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How Physician Retirements Could Disrupt Your Medical Staffing Plans

Jackson Physician Search
November 10, 2020

The three R’s of physician staffing include recruitment, retention, and retirement, and all three are integral to achieving your physician staffing goals. For years, the industry has warned that we’re on the cusp of a mass exit of talent as baby boomer physicians inch closer to retirement. No longer cautionary – reality is here – and estimates show that two out of five physicians are at or near retirement age.

At last month’s MGMA Medical Practice Excellence Conference (MPEC20), Jackson Physician Search President Tony Stajduhar led an enlightening breakout session about the Three R’s of Physician Staffing. Well received by more than 240 attendees, we decided to take a deeper dive. The first two topics – Recruitment and Retention – have already been addressed in previous articles. In this one, let’s take a closer look at physician retirements and how they could disrupt your staffing plans, as well as what you can do to mitigate the impact.

Understanding Physician Demographics

Much has been written about the ongoing physician shortage in the United States and how it is likely to worsen without legislative changes. Increasing the allowable number of physician residency slots to keep pace with medical school graduates would be a great first step. But with the rate of retirements outpacing patient demand for care coupled with not enough doctors in training and uncertain post-pandemic restrictions regarding foreign doctor visas, healthcare administrators should be proactively looking at their physician retirement scenarios in creative ways.

Demographics of the Physician Shortage:

  • GenX and Millennial Physician Pool Growing More Slowly
  • On Average, Millennial Physicians Provide 13% Fewer Hours of Patient Care Per Week

Having a Retirement Conversation

Jackson Physician Search recognized the impact that retirements were having on physician staffing plans throughout the industry and set out to better understand the situation. A survey was conducted that asked both physicians and administrators a number of questions about things ranging from who should initiate the retirement conversation to what is the appropriate lead time to provide notice of retirement. Not surprisingly, the responses were significantly different between the physician group and the administrators.

Among the key findings:

  • Physicians’ drivers for retirement include lifestyle, financial stability, burnout, and frustration with the current state of medicine. While physicians cited lifestyle issues (44 percent) as the most important reason driving their retirement decision, followed by financial stability (23 percent), comments from nearly 20 percent of them noted burnout and frustration with the increased focus on paperwork and patient volume as well as decreased focus on patient care.
  • Physicians feel it’s their responsibility to initiate the retirement conversation, but they are less comfortable doing so than administrators. A large majority of physicians (80 percent) said it’s their responsibility to broach the subject compared with 37 percent of administrators. Yet, they weren’t (52 percent) as comfortable discussing retirement plans as were administrators (74 percent).
  • 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. Also, 34 percent of physicians said they don’t feel obligated to give any notice of retirement. Conversely, 81 percent of administrators said physicians were required to provide more than three months.
  • Administrators assume that many physicians will fully retire, but a number of them plan to work elsewhere. Almost 40 percent of administrators named full retirement as a top retirement transition method at their organization, but just 17 percent of physicians were planning to do so. In contrast, 28 percent of doctors say they will work part or full time somewhere else.

These findings should be a ‘call to action’ for administrators to initiate an open dialogue with physicians approaching or at retirement age, especially if there is no process in place that encourages early notification. Given that a hospital can lose $150,000 each month a specialty is vacant or that some specialist searches can take up to 10-12 months, there are significant financial reasons to plan ahead.

Planning for Physician Retirements

The survey established that over 80% of physicians feel responsible for initiating the retirement conversation but aren’t so comfortable in doing so. Administrators should respond by facilitating these important retirement conversations. Clearly, a more formal process, but one that invites discussion, will ease an uncomfortable situation for staff. One benefit of this approach is it provides you with an opportunity to ask physicians to be a part of the physician succession planning process, which could carry into the recruitment and onboarding of new physicians.

Another interesting result from the survey was the number of physicians who planned to keep working after retiring from their current position. They discussed seeking reduced schedules, locum tenens, PRN, or telemedicine opportunities, which leaves the door open to find ways to keep physicians in your organization and ease the transition to a replacement. Initiating a reduced schedule can lengthen the retirement timeline, reduce the burden of a full vacancy, and allow your organization to continue to meet patient demand.

Key Takeaways from ‘The Three R’s of Successful Physician Staffing’

Physician recruitment can be a costly and time-consuming process, even when it is a planned vacancy. It is critical to streamline your processes and drive efficiencies to reduce your interview-to-hire and time-to-fill ratios for improved physician recruitment ROI.

Improve Recruitment ROI and Maximize Revenue:

  • Reduce Interview-to-Hire Ratio from 5:1 to 3:1 for a Potential Cost Savings of $18,000
  • Improve Offer Acceptance Rate by 20% for a Cost Savings of Approximately $24,000
  • Shorten Vacancy Time by 60 Days for a Potential Revenue Gain of $138,000

Each extra day you spend recruiting equates to thousands of dollars in lost revenue through reduced productivity, morale, and patient loyalty. As shown above, even small incremental improvements can significantly enhance your bottom line. It is also essential to keep in mind that these outcomes can be advanced by leveraging technology to recruit more efficiently.

Lastly, sometimes even the best efforts and intentions do not move the needle enough. Building a trusted relationship with a recruitment partner who can fill in the gaps or bring a fresh set of eyes to your recruitment and hiring processes will be the impetus for maximizing your recruitment dollars. Jackson Physician Search is here to help. Our team of healthcare industry recruitment professionals have access to proprietary technology and industry-leading tools to help you recruit physician who will fit, succeed, and stay. Reach out today to learn more.

Missed the MGMA MPEC20 Conference?

Watch Mastering the Three R’s of Physician Staffing


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