The psychological impact of COVID-19 on frontline healthcare workers, including physicians, is yet to be fully realized and understood. From initial worries about having enough PPE to working endless hours treating those afflicted with the virus, the past several months has taken a toll.
To bring more awareness to the issue, MGMA hosted a webinar, “Hiring Physicians in the ‘New Normal’: Addressing the Psychological Dimensions of COVID-19.” Jackson Physician Search president Tony Stajduhar presented and was joined by Kathy Cooperman, President of KC Leadership Consulting, and Dr. Russell Livingston, Psychiatric Physician and President of Livingston Consulting.
In addition to touching on the psychological impact of handling patient care during these unprecedented times, they discussed how hospitals and healthcare administrators could adjust their recruiting, hiring, and retention practices, with an eye toward understanding and mitigating concerns that physicians may have regarding COVID-19.
To view the MGMA Webinar in its entirety, click here.
During the webinar, participants were asked to use one word to describe the mental health of their frontline healthcare providers. Unsurprisingly, the results pointed to providers being overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed. How these stressors are going to impact physician recruitment and retention is yet unclear. Still, it is essential to consider that physicians will seek new opportunities. Tony Stajduhar highlighted the market dynamics of physician job seekers by pointing out that 50,000 physicians will accept new positions in 2020, and summer is the prime time for them to make a move.
Recruiting Physicians in the New Normal
Studies clearly show that physicians are much more likely to accept a position with an organization whose culture and values are aligned with the physician’s own. Hiring for fit has never been more critical than it is today because of the costs associated with a competitive recruitment environment.
Some physicians are seeking out new positions because of their experiences dealing with COVID-19, or they just find themselves ready to explore new opportunities. Your understanding of how the pandemic may have impacted them should be reflected in how you recruit and interview potential candidates. For example:
- Don’t shy away from talking about the pandemic and the steps your organization took to support the physicians and other staff.
- Let the candidate know that you understand the anxiety and trauma experienced by your physicians as they tried to balance patient care with their own safety and by extension the safety of their families.
- Highlight the ways that your leadership team addressed the trauma and the steps that were taken to help mitigate the stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.
It is essential to have actual examples of how the culture within your organization helped your staff cope with the uncertainty caused by the events unfolding around them. It could be as simple as how the executive team held town hall meetings to share information and provide staff with an opportunity to express their concerns. In other cases, it is providing each employee extra time each day to find a quiet room for meditation or yoga.
“During times of crisis, people fall back on their core values when making decisions.”
Physicians spend their days caring for others and, likewise, want to feel like they are in an environment where everyone cares for each other. When interviewing physician candidates in the post-pandemic world, it is critical to sell them on the organizational culture that they would be joining. Consider that they may be coming from an organization where they didn’t feel supported during their most trying times. Counter this by explaining how your organization found ways to proactively support the staff. Share the positive work experiences that occurred during even the most difficult times. Recounting these real-world actions will resonate with a candidate and help them to envision what they can expect during times of crisis in the future.
Keep a Steady Hand on Physician Retention Strategies
We have acknowledged the fact that physicians are feeling significant psychological stress and trauma from trying to manage patient care throughout the pandemic. Administrators everywhere need to step forward and provide critical leadership at this time as part of their overall physician retention strategy.
During the webinar, Kathy Cooperman described the challenges involved with leading through times of change. While physicians are scrambling to provide care under uncertain conditions, healthcare leaders need to take on a more active and visible role for their staff. It is critical to provide as much clarity about what is known and unknown, to support, and even nurture their teams through encouragement and reassurance. This is a time where healthcare systems that have put time and effort into building an open, honest, and supportive culture will see the results.
Dr. Livingston advises administrators to encourage staff members to express their feelings and concerns in a structured environment. While it may need to be professionally facilitated, it is important for physicians and other care providers to feel that they are being heard. Statistically, a pandemic situation exacerbates the risk of burnout, and the trauma caused by feeling overwhelmed leads to an increase in PTSD symptoms. Much like a typical trauma ER environment, leadership needs to have a plan to mitigate the trauma symptoms being experienced by staff.
“PTSD-like symptoms adversely affect the level of care. This is why it is imperative for administrators to have a plan in place to help mitigate the effects of trauma being experienced by their physicians.”
~Dr. Russell Livingston
Staff morale is a critical component of any healthy work environment. In a crisis situation, all employees are going to seek to find certainty amid the chaos, and this is where strong leaders find ways to be consistent in their message and cultivate a sense of support and stability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has likely altered the ways that healthcare organizations will attract, hire, and retain physicians going forward. Clearly, one of the takeaways is that strong leadership and supportive culture will help sell an organization in this highly competitive hiring environment.
Jackson Physician Search has the healthcare industry experience and nationwide reach to be your partner in physician recruitment and retention. Contact our recruitment professionals and discover how partnering with Jackson Physician Search can make a difference for you today.