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5 Ways to Lower Physician Attrition Rates

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Physician recruitment is a difficult process for most hospitals and health systems. It requires months of planning and effort to get a physician in the door. So, after all of that work and effort, it is especially painful — and expensive — for the hospital or health system if the physician leaves the position soon after being recruited there.

Besides having the expense of recruiting the physician go down the drain, high physician attrition rates can actually make recruitment more difficult for hospitals and systems in the future. "If the rate is high, people getting recruited will begin to wonder why there is so much turnover," says Joseph DeSilva, FACHE, partner at The Kiran Consortium Group, a healthcare global advisory and professional services firm. "They might not want to go there because they are sensing the cause or causes for the attrition. It makes recruitment difficult."

That's why it is important for hospitals and health systems to pay close attention to their physician attrition rate — it's costly not to.

Causes of attrition

There are several reasons why a physician would choose to leave a hospital or health system, but it really boils down to if the physician and family are happy there or if they feel they would be happier and more fulfilled somewhere else.

While it may seem difficult for an organization to control its physician attrition rate, there are some steps hospitals and systems can take to keep their physicians from looking for other jobs. Here, Mr. DeSilva shares five suggestions for hospitals and health systems looking to lower their attrition rate.

1. Ensure cultural alignment. This is one of the most important aspects to focus on to avoid physician attrition, especially for faith-based organizations. "If [a physician] doesn't support or has a problem with [the mission], that's probably not the kind of physician you want to recruit or retain," he says. Those physicians could both bring down the morale of the organization and be more likely to leave for new position with a better fit.

2. Agree on expectations. The recruiting organization and the physician need to agree on the physician's measurement criteria early in the recruiting and interviewing process, or it could lead to an unhappy physician and, eventually, an empty space in the medical staff. Physicians need to be aware early on what is expected of them, such as how many patients they are expected to see a day, according to Mr. DeSilva.

3. Involve the physician's family or significant other. Mr. DeSilva says this is an area that is often overlooked by hospitals and health systems. "If you bring someone to an area they haven't lived in before, there's a cultural transition and social transition that takes place," he says. "You need to embrace the whole unit." If the physician's partner or children are not happy with the new area or are having a difficult time transitioning, it can cause the physician to consider another job elsewhere.

"The senior executive team needs to take it upon themselves to interact with the physician and the [family] when appropriate and necessary," says Mr. DeSilva. There are several ways to keep the physician's family involved and happy. One specific way to keep the physician's significant other involved is to invite him or her to join volunteer staff at the hospital. "That's a great way to meet other families," Mr. DeSilva says, which can help them feel connected to their new community.

4. Ensure physicians are professionally challenged. Keeping physicians challenged keeps them from getting bored and seeking professional challenges at another hospital. Executives should encourage physicians to engage in various committees and should also develop a partnership with the medical staff.

5. Control the rumor mill. Rumors can spread like wildfire through an organization's staff and physicians, especially when that rumor has to do with mergers or the facility's financial struggles. "This has caused physicians to go to other hospitals, because they feel the management or hospital is unstable," says Mr. DeSilva.

In order to nip rumors at the bud, executives should stay in constant communication with medical staff leadership and the hospital board. Also, hospital and health system leaders should try get in front of a potential problem before rumors have a chance to crop up. "Send out as much information as [you] can so everyone can get educated, including hospital staff," says Mr. DeSilva. "Minimize rumors, emphasize facts and have open meetings." He also encourages distributing written information, which has less of a chance of being misinterpreted.

So, executives do have a chance to get out of the vicious circle that is having a high attrition rate. If executives attempt to make sure future physicians are culturally aligned, tell the physicians their expectations early, interact with the physician's family, challenge them professionally and keep rumors at bay, their organization can retain more physicians, saving them money and recruitment stress down the road.

More Articles on Physician Recruiting:

Survey: Physician Shortage Hits Critical Level in NY
Management Case Study: How to Avoid Self-Destructive Employee Recruitment
Hospital-Physician Tool: White Paper on Physician Employment

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