Physician Retention is More Important than Ever

Andy Guenther, for HealthLeaders Media , July 9, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness. Recognize that a positive, energized staff leads to the same sense of purpose within your physician structure. It is critical that facilities not kid themselves. Medicine is full of unique and different challenges that cannot always be foreseen. The energy created through growth and development of the staff is transferrable and can mean the world to a physician when times are tough.

Clean your own House. Hospital administration must be aware and understand the pressures physicians face. Reducing that pressure through effective supply management, IT support, and custodial services can make a huge impact in influencing retention.

Open Forums Work. A well marketed, inviting and open forum for physicians can foster an environment of trust. It is critical that administrators "close the loop" on feedback and ideas. Failure to do so will dramatically reduce trust and can be detrimental to the long term prospects for a physician. A very consistent comment made by physicians to recruiters is that their current hospital "just doesn't listen." Are you listening?

Generational Issues Matter. The perspective and reality of a Generation X physician varies wildly from those of a "Millennial" or those of a Baby Boomer physician. Understanding what is important to each generation can absolutely make the difference in a physician deciding to stay or leave a community.

Learn when they do Leave. All facilities will have providers who leave even under the best of circumstances. The very best organizations strive to learn something from each and every event. Exit interviews can give a facility unique insight into the mind of a physician.

Invite them Back. Just because a provider leaves your facility does not mean he or she cannot remain a member of the family. Thorough follow up with past members of your staff can give your facility both a leg up on securing a physician's return or a unique advantage in securing other providers who are close with your former employee. Does your facility have an alumni program? Do you invite them back for special events, holiday parties, etc.? These types of activities will create influencers and word of mouth advertising that is invaluable in today's market.

"We get far superior cooperation with kindness and communication," said one administrator in the St. Louis metropolitan area. "I'll ask my doctors what is lacking in our system that prevents them from getting their job done. You can change the relationship, but you do it with actions, not words."

It is easy for a facility to become fixated on short term issues or results, but a long term view needs to be a critical part of a facility's focus. Recognition at the national level that the shortages are real and legislation designed to improve physician supply seem to be imminent, but the length of time that these solutions will take to implement presents a challenge not easily surmountable. Those facilities with clearly defined goals and objectives in the arena of retention will consistently excel in physician relations, have greater buy-in for key initiatives (i.e., quality, pay for performance) and outperform peers who don't take the same steps.

Andy Guenther is a recruiting team lead with Delta Physician Placement, the full-service physician search firm of The Delta Companies, and is a member of The Delta Companies Thought Leadership Council.
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