Physician Recruitment and Retention – It’s Not All About the Money

By: Allison McCarthy, MBA |

“Too many people measure how successful they are by how much money they make or the people that they associate with. In my opinion, true success should be measured by how happy you are.” – Richard Branson

A hospital client successfully recruited a fellowship-trained vascular surgeon to the community.  Being from the area, he was ready to return to his roots to start his practice and his family.  He was eager to use the skills he gained in fellowship – particularly those provided in a vascular lab.

I met the surgeon after 16 months in practice.  The operational startup was bumpy, but he worked through it.  But he was troubled about not being able to advance his practice into the vascular lab given the Radiology group’s control of it.  He told the hospital that he needed to start looking at alternative practice venues if the vascular lab access could not be resolved.  The hospital offered to increase his compensation to retain him, but dollars would not address his concern over of losing his vascular lab skills if he didn’t begin using them soon.

The competing hospital – just two miles away – offered to construct for him his own vascular lab. With no resolution on the situation with my client hospital, he left after completing his two-year contract term.  Not only did my client hospital lose its desired vascular surgery growth but also the return-on-investment for the recruitment, relocation and practice startup of the surgeon.

Money is a big part of today’s recruitment and retention discussion.  While recruiters and their organizations use dollars as leverage to attract physician talent, it’s much more about their professional fulfillment in the long run.

Unfortunately, career satisfaction among physicians is disappointingly low.  Medscape’s 2016 Physician Compensation Report found career satisfaction at 60 percent – with specialties such as internal medicine and family medicine at less than 30 percent.  The surveyed physicians were asked which aspects of their profession they find most rewarding and “making good money” was low on the list.

“Gratitude/relationships with patients” and “being good, finding answers and diagnosis” were the areas of greatest reward.

Authored by Paul DeChant, MD, and Diane Shannon, MD, Preventing Physician Burnout: Curing the Chaos and Returning Joy to the Practice of Medicine identifies seven factors that drive physician engagement:

  • Managing Industry Changes – the health system is addressing environmental shifts that impact them and their practices
  • Relationship with Leaders – regular dialogue between the administrative team and individual physicians
  • Collegial Environment – physicians across specialties and practice types support one another as professionals
  • Managed Inefficiencies – operational systems, both within and outside the practice, create minimal disruption to physicians and their practice flow
  • Involvement in Decision-making – specifically in areas that impact them directly
  • Meaningful Work – doing what they love, were trained to do
  • Work-Life Balance – their professional lives don’t have a negative impact on their personal time and space

Not only are these factors critical to physician retention, they can be used as a message framework for physician recruitment.  Recruiters and their leaders can together review the list and inventory the components in place or initiatives underway that represent these factors.  For example:

  • Managing Industry Changes
    • Incentive compensation structures based on population health initiatives e.g. value
  • Meaningful Work
    • Weekly hospitalist shifts begin by being assigned to admissions and then rotate on to the inpatient floors to care for their prior admitted patients
  • Managed Inefficiencies
    • Dedicated scribes to support EMR use
  • Work-Life Balance
    • Telemedicine services or advanced care providers as the first line of call coverage

By including these practice descriptors in the physician recruitment messages, the organization differentiates itself from others.  And the existing physicians, if engaged and professionally satisfied, will act as testimonials during the interview process.

While money is important, it will also not be the satisfier.  To be successful in physician recruitment and retention, it’s more about their practice environment and professional aspirations.