The Workforce of the Future: What Hospitals Need to Stay Competitive 

In this exclusive Q&A, Vituity’s President Theo Koury, MD, shares his expert take on the hiring challenges facing hospitals and health systems and ways to successfully recruit for and shape the workforce of the future.

What do you see as your greatest competition for workers?

In two words: provider burnout. Over 330,000 clinicians — about a third of them physicians —left the workforce in 2021. Many more are approaching retirement age. As healthcare organizations, we are our own greatest competitors if we don’t work to create engaging environments that ease burnout and moral injury.

Clinician parents have been hit especially hard by the pandemic and its aftermath. A recent Medscape survey found that 35% of physician parents were “conflicted” or “very conflicted” about balancing family and professional demands. In addition, many younger physicians prioritize flexibility and work-life balance and are not as eager as previous generations to embark on a traditional medical career.

Over the last five years, we’ve seen a rise in nontraditional job opportunities for clinicians. Are hospitals feeling the competition?

Yes, they definitely are. Practice patterns are changing. Anesthesiologists are moving from hospitals to surgery centers. Hospitalists and emergency physicians are moving into private and virtual practices with greater perceived work-life balance.

Adding to this, many physicians are moving into nonclinical roles with payers and tech. Analytics and AI decision support are hot areas that require medical expertise to build and train new models. All of this chips away at the acute care workforce and contributes to a gap in care delivery within the hospital walls. 

What investments are needed now to ensure a thriving clinical workforce? 

The best investment for hospitals and health systems is building the right environment and culture to attract the best clinical teams passionate about patient-centric care. It’s also critical for organizations to clearly articulate their mission, vision, and purpose and make sure it resonates with their teams. At Vituity, we’ve learned over the nearly fifty years of our existence that having strong workforce engagement, especially on the clinical provider side, is the foundation of operational success.

A big part of designing this environment is providing employees with training and leadership development opportunities and encouraging frontline engagement in the development and execution of innovative care delivery models that meet the needs and expectations of our communities.

What does the clinician workforce need that investments and funding can't quite solve? 

Moral injury is a huge issue. Healthcare workers want to provide high-quality care and healing. And they feel great distress when systemic issues interfere with optimal patient care. For example, today’s physicians must constantly weigh what’s best for the patient against profitability, insurance restrictions, fear of litigation, productivity pressures, and (sometimes) poorly thought-out quality metrics. 

Because moral injury is related to larger systemic issues, no single organization can solve it. Instead, we need overarching policy change to align economic incentives within healthcare to benefit patients and clinicians. 

How can health system leaders focus on safety and quality in this challenging operating environment?  

First, it’s crucial to develop a safety culture by encouraging transparency, communication, and collaboration. Both clinicians and patients benefit from a safe, non-punitive environment that encourages reporting of near misses, errors, and adverse events. Incidents should be leveraged for learning and improvement opportunities, not punishment.

Second, we can engage providers in developing process improvements that eliminate errors. They’re the closest to our patients, and they see firsthand everything that impacts them. Inviting providers to improve care is rarely a hard sell because most of us went into medicine to make a difference. 

Finally, invest in training, education, and best-practice sharing. There must be a set expectation for continued knowledge learning and skill development.

Any closing thoughts? 

Engage your teams. Make them feel heard by asking them to share their vision on improving care and their solutions to problems they face. Then engage them in implementing strategies and tactics. That will give you a dedicated workforce. And in these difficult times for recruiting and retention, that’s worth its weight in gold.

Theo Koury, MD, is President of Vituity. Across his 25-year leadership career, Dr. Koury has focused on empowering front-line clinicians to improve care by prioritizing patient outcomes and maximizing quality and efficiency. In addition to his executive duties, he is a practicing emergency physician in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As President of Vituity since 2017, Dr. Koury oversees the company’s financial and infrastructure strategies essential to fulfill the enterprise’s mission of empowering healthcare providers to deliver exceptional care across more than 500 service locations nationwide.

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