Practice Management Blog

6 Proven Physician Retention Strategies

Studies indicate that the cost of replacing one primary care physician is over $20,000 in recruitment costs, a loss in billings of over $300,000 and over $300,000 in inpatient revenue. Now consider that the annual average turnover in medical practices is somewhere between 6 and 10%, and you can quickly see why physician retention strategies should be a top priority for most health clinics!

It’s no surprise then that medical groups are putting physician retention strategies in place. If you can manage the factors that lead to physician turnover, you can start to reduce the rate of attrition. The numbers support this with a recent survey by the American Medical Group Association finding that 90% of medical groups currently track turnover, and 58% have retention initiatives in place. These findings are supported by research that shows the cost of replacing highly trained employees (such as physicians) could easily cost upwards of two times their annual salary, and the true cost could be even higher.

There are multiple factors that contribute to physician attrition, but in many cases, it comes down to communication at each stage of the recruitment process. Often, expectations aren’t clearly communicated during the recruitment – leading to the onboarding of new physicians that might not be a good fit for the practice. From there, important communications such as welcoming the new physician, giving regular feedback and having a clear understanding of what the physician wants and needs can go a long way to retaining your best performers.

To improve your practice’s retention rates, here are six proven physician retention strategies:

Strategy 1: Have an In-Depth, Honest Interview Process and Get the Right Fit from the Get-Go

If you’ve considered different physician retention strategies, this might be one that you’ve overlooked. To give yourself the best chance of hiring a physician who will stay with you for the long run, you need to hire someone who’s a good match for the role. This means having a very specific vision of what the role entails, and the education and experience that an applicant will need to perform the job. If you can communicate the practice culture and be upfront about what the new physician can expect, then there is a much better chance of hiring the right candidate.

When you’re ready to make the hiring decision, the job offer should include the best salary and benefits package that the budget will allow, including enough time off for a healthy work-life balance.

If you’re serious about attracting top talent, you need to offer:

  • An attractive salary;
  • A fair, manageable workload;
  • Access to a knowledge base including colleagues and specialists;
  • Professional development opportunities.

If the practice is rural, you will also need to communicate education opportunities for their children, job opportunities for their partner, the community’s need for their healthcare services, and the quality of life they can expect.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

  • Take an in-depth, honest look at the expectations of both the physician and the practice. This may mean uncovering the reasons that the prospective physician is looking for a new position (due to challenges or frustrations in their previous role), as well as the reasons the role has become available (why the previous physician left).
  • Communicate in writing all expectations with regard to salary and benefits as well as growth opportunities to prevent miscommunication or frustration further down the line. This is vital as participants in one study showed that 48% of employees had left previous positions due to expectations that weren’t met.
  • If relocation is part of the position, the spouse could be included in the interview process to ensure that the opportunity will be a good fit for the whole family.

Strategy 2: Offer Competitive Compensation and Benefits

While money doesn’t solve everything, fair remuneration is always going to play an important role in attracting and retaining the best physicians. Around 40% of medical graduates have over $200,000 in student loan debt when they start their first jobs, which means they’re under immense pressure to try and get that number down.

Unfortunately, physician burnout is a worldwide epidemic, and physician turnover rates continue to increase. As a practice owner, one of the ways to get ahead of this is to tie compensation and benefits to performance, but without piling on the billing hours that lead to burnout.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

Consider implementing quality-based KPIs that are tied into financial incentives so that it’s not just about hours worked, but the quality of service delivered to clients. Power Diary’s reporting can be tailored to show appointment counts, client retention and client statistics. The practice management software’s Mailchimp integration also makes it easy to collect client feedback and monitor patient satisfaction scores.

Keep in mind that other practices may be offering proactive ways to help physicians manage their student loans, and over 55% of doctors receive weekly job opportunities, so you may need to make changes to your remuneration packages in order to compete.

Strategy 3: Make the New Physician Feel Welcome

Onboarding is an essential strategy for new employees, as most people form attachments and a sense of loyalty within the first few weeks of starting a new position. A strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% (and productivity by over 70%). The easiest and best way to do this is to make them feel comfortable and welcome. Unfortunately, only around 1 in 10 employees would agree that their companies do a good job of making their employees feel welcome. 1 in 10! That is an alarming statistic and shows there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

  • Have a small welcome gift waiting on their desk on the first day.
  • Schedule a first-day lunch or after-work drinks so that the new physician can meet other practitioners on the team in an informal setting.
  • Ask the new physician to fill out a biography that can be shared with the other practice physicians to help find common interests and create talking points.
  • For physicians that have relocated, send a welcome package that includes something to welcome the whole family.
  • Provide a comprehensive orientation experience so that new team members meet the support staff, senior management, and other physicians.
  • Share all information about the practice that will help the new physician to feel at home, such as research opportunities, residency teaching, and clinical programs.
  • Assign a mentor, so the new physician has someone to ask when they have clinical and operational questions, as well as providing coaching and counseling if the need arises.
  • Provide all the equipment that the physician needs to do their job including IT passwords, access to the practice management software, parking passes, uniforms, and a fully equipped office space.

Together these small steps will help a new physician feel comfortable in their new role, able to perform their duties and, most importantly, they’ll feel like an important, valued member of the team.

Strategy 4: Keep the Channels of Communication Open

If you’ve started off strong and found the right physician for your practice and really done the hard work of making them feel welcome, don’t lose momentum! For the new relationship to solidify into a long-term position that works both for the physician and the practice, there needs to be open communication. Good communication contributes to a sense of the physician feeling valued, more satisfied and motivated. A collaborative practice culture also keeps you fully informed about your practice and employees. But you also need to be seen to take feedback onboard (only 30% of employers act on feedback). Don’t think of these communication sessions as a waste of time, because they’re actually a great opportunity to identify and fix any issues before they become more serious.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

There are many ways to encourage dialogue, options include:

  • One-on-one meetings with mentors to discuss performance and growth opportunities – don’t wait for someone to call a meeting, schedule these on a regular basis.
  • Group forums to discuss higher-level practice-related topics.
  • Regular contact with the physician’s immediate manager to prevent small issues from escalating and to provide clear, honest feedback.
  • If you have an operations manager or HR, also schedule check-ins from them and/or the personnel who were responsible for recruiting the physician. There should be in regular contact during the first few months, reducing to more occasionally afterward, to help address any needs that the physician might have.

Strategy 5: Understand What Your Physicians Want

Most recruiters will be quick to tell you that the reasons the majority of physicians are looking for new placement opportunities are:

  • Work-life balance, across all industries, is becoming the most important thing for employees. A study by the American Medical Association (AMA) found that 92% of physicians under the age of 35 felt that a good work-life balance was important.
  • Communication and support from management – in many cases management aren’t available to listen to or address concerns, but if they were, physicians would be much more likely to stay.
  • Clearly communicated, transparent compensation incentives which translate directly to improved performance and satisfaction.

In terms of an important addition to the other physician retention strategies we’ve mentioned above, this one is vital. If you can understand what your physicians want, you’ll be in a much better position to give it to them.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

Ask yourself:

  • Is our practice model able to adapt to the individual needs of your physicians? If not, are there some changes that could be made to improve physician work-life balance without impacting productivity?
  • Do we make it easy for our physicians to communicate issues? Is our management team available? If physicians have a concern, are we willing to try and resolve it?
  • Is it easy for your physicians to understand the criteria they need to meet in order to be eligible for incentives?

Strategy 6: Focus on Local Strengths

A professional working environment and a good work-life balance are vital if you’re committed to retaining physicians in positions that are hard to fill.

If you want your practitioners to stick with you for the long haul, you’ll have to offer them the support they need, as well as opportunities for integration and professional networking in the community. But you also need to focus on the benefits that only this position offers. Whether you’re working in an urban or rural setting, there will be a set of unique features and advantages that your community provides, and this will be factored into the physician’s decision to stay or move on.

Practical Tips for Your Practice

Let them know what your practice setting offers. This could include a low crime rate, sports facilities and teams, or great schools in the area. If you can show the physician that you offer a well-rounded experience both at work and home, you have the best chance of attracting top talent to work for you.

Physician retention strategies have an important role to play in every step of the process, from recruitment to ongoing communication at different points in the year, to working out what is actually important to your physicians.

If you’ve been struggling with high rates of attrition and the disruption that this causes, it’s time to focus on:

  • Hiring the right physician for the role during the initial recruitment process;
  • Offering competitive compensation;
  • Making the onboarding process smooth and welcoming;
  • Facilitating open and ongoing communication;
  • Meeting the needs of the physicians in your practice, most notably in the area of work-life balance to avoid burnout, and
  • Selling the strengths of your local community, and providing ways for a new physician to integrate personally and professionally.

If you’ve been struggling with physician retention, or know someone running a practice of doctors for whom this is an ongoing concern, why not pass on this article? With a growing understanding of the importance of physician retention strategies for financial viability, having some practical pointers might be exactly what they need to get their practice back on track.

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