The Secret to Physician Retention

Dan Culhane

Dan Culhane , MD

Vice President of Operations, Emergency Medicine

Published May 02, 2013

The cost of losing someone from your company is quite significant. The actual financial loss, including factors such as lost productivity and costs of integrating employee new person into your organization, can be greater than their salary. For someone as highly specialized as a physician, according to industry experts this can add up to more than twice their salary.

Cejka Search and AMGA recently published their 2012 Physician Retention Survey, which studies data and trends in physician retention. Their report on the current physician turnover rate makes it obvious that reducing this number would create huge operational and financial benefits to healthcare companies.

The study also discusses the challenges in accomplishing this. They point out that as the economy has recovered, the workforce has become more mobile. As Lor Schutte, president of Cejka Search says, “Turnover in medical groups continues to climb along with the economy.” Human resource expert Barbara Katz explains that rising housing prices and sales opportunities are key drivers for physicians to change cities and move to their desired locations.

What are the strategies that a medical group can implement to reduce turnover? First, we must accept that a certain degree of turnover is inevitable and measure it. Although many physicians work well into their golden years, a handful can be expected to retire every year. My physician group has recently implemented a software program to document and measure the mobility of our staff. This allows us to predict future turnover and growth so that we can plan for change and, hopefully, create positive outcomes

Just as in all parts of medicine, it is most valuable to focus on factors that are potentially controllable. The Cejka survey points out that, Culture is the top controllable factor driving turnover.” Empowering each individual physician helps create a culture that favors retention. On the level of the company as a whole, the structure of power is also crucial. Democratic physician groups can be an environment to create a culture of empowerment. Further, companies that focus on employee engagement are most successful at retaining staff. At each site, the local medical director has a large responsibility and opportunity to make a defining contribution to the culture and the satisfaction of each physician at that location. A critical part of the medical director’s job is to be a steward for each physician’s career on their team. In order to build stability and loyalty, the medical director needs to pay attention to the career path of each staff member.

While physician retention is clearly an important concern, jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over a five year period, the turnover rate of physicians is actually low compared to other professions in the United States. Physician turnover was 6.8% over a 12 month period in 2011, while it averaged 36.7% for all industries and workers. This is a testament to how committed physicians are to the communities they serve, as well as to their practice groups.

The take-home message for a healthcare leader is that organizations must understand their workforce retention and turnover rates in order to be able to influence them. Once the metrics are clear, leaders can design programs to motivate their doctors to stay with the group. Holding on to providers will give healthcare groups a financial advantage.

Partnering to improve patient lives

Vituity branding orange wave pattern background