Recruitment Strategy

How Prioritizing Culture Can Attract (and Retain) Best-Fit Physicians & APCs

For healthcare organizations looking to find top talent for their open roles, don’t underestimate the power of a strong culture.

While it can be challenging for healthcare leaders to confront internal culture issues, experts and studies alike clearly support that few things boost recruitment and retention faster than a strong organizational culture.

When an organization doesn’t prioritize its culture, it is likely to experience high turnover rates, burnout, mental health issues among staff members and even a decline in the quality of patient care. A strong culture can be an antidote to these common challenges, underscoring the importance of healthcare organizations prioritizing their culture as a core part of their recruitment and retention strategies.

There isn’t a cookie-cutter template for healthcare teams that work in high-functioning and healthy work cultures, but they do share some common features, like united vision and values, empathetic leadership, well-defined roles and responsibilities, check-ins, adequate staffing and clear communication.

In a webinar with Becker’s Hospital Review, Provider Solutions & Development’s CEO, Rachelle Daugherty, and Swedish Health Services President and CEO, Dr. Elizabeth Wako, discussed the importance of culture in both recruiting and retaining physicians and advanced practice clinicians (APCs) and shared four areas with the greatest impact on helping healthcare organizations secure top talent.

1. Reduce Administrative Burden on Physicians

Administrative burden is one of the leading causes of burnout among physicians and APCs. It’s estimated that physicians and APCs are still spending almost half of their day doing administrative tasks. While it’s impossible to eliminate administrative tasks for healthcare professionals, organizations can significantly reduce that burden through improved processes and automation.

According to Dr. Wako and Rachelle, there are a few actionable things organizational leaders can do for immediate impact:

  1. Implement a more collaborative, team-based care approach to empower clinicians to use nurses, medical assistants, social workers, and even students to spread out some of the administrative tasks that currently fall on the physicians and APCs.
  2. Focus on change management efforts when rolling out new systems or processes to give physicians the time they need to adapt to changes. Training, support, and documentation are all great ways to remove the mental load required to implement new systems in existing procedures.
  3. Introduce daily or weekly team huddles to open a feedback loop between physicians and leadership with the goal of proactively looking for ways to decrease administrative burden.

In the webinar, Dr. Wako shared a few examples of how Swedish Health Services is taking action to reduce the administrative burden on their physicians and staff members, including the Grace system — which supports MyChart inbox management at the patient level — and Pearl system — which reduces the cognitive burden on physicians to keep up with constantly changing clinical pathways.

“We found a 22% reduction in administrative tasks because a question was answered by Grace and an 8% reduction in MyChart inbox questions, which is huge,” says Dr. Wako in the webinar.

2. Personalize the Recruiting & Onboarding Experience

Today’s physicians are not only highly informed but also have high expectations, and their experience with an organization must feel personalized to maximize their engagement — both in the recruitment process and once they’ve accepted a role.

On the recruitment side, it’s important to remember that physicians experience a lot of noise, and personalization is one of the best ways a healthcare organization can stand out in the recruitment process.

Tools like AI-powered language processors can scan resumes and cover letters and match physicians to roles, which allows recruiters to spend more time getting to know their candidates.

Automation can play a big role in personalizing the recruitment process, as well. Leveraging personalized reminder messages or chat box features can meet candidates where they are and lead them to feel prioritized and listened to.

But, personalization shouldn’t stop once you have a signed offer letter. Turnover has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so once they’re in the door, engagement is crucial to encourage clinicians to stay and grow with your organization.

Organizations can implement formalized check-in and feedback processes and more frequent performance reviews to help make physicians feel heard. Opening these lines of communication also provides more opportunities to discuss career progression, which encourages physicians to stay in their roles for longer, as they won’t have to seek new opportunities outside of their current organization.

Some other simple ways organizations can increase engagement through personalization include regular activities and meet-ups that allow employees to bond outside of the workplace and regular surveying where the feedback is actually followed up on with action.

3. Prioritize Healthcare Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives

Recent studies have shown that health outcomes improve drastically when clinicians match the community they serve. In other words, patients want to see physicians and healthcare professionals who are like them.

The challenge for healthcare organizations is that diversifying your physicians and staff can’t be done in a day, and this kind of institutional change requires significant effort and investment for it to have an impact on recruitment and retention.

PS&D’s CEO Rachelle shared in the webinar that getting “upstream” with physician recruitment is one of the most important ways healthcare organizations can hire and engage more diverse clinicians.

Organizations need to get in front of undergraduate programs and even high schools as a way to encourage diverse groups to consider healthcare careers. They should also broaden their selection criteria for medical schools and residency programs to ensure they aren’t inadvertently excluding students from certain backgrounds.

“Start building relationships with medical students and residents really early, and it’s got to be intentional, [like] targeting historically Black colleges that have medical schools and starting rotational programs with them,” Rachelle says.

Still, this upstream approach takes years to have any notable impact on a healthcare organization’s recruiting efforts, so it becomes equally important to ensure physicians already working there can provide respectful and competent care to patients of different backgrounds.

“Start building relationships with medical students and residents really early, and it’s got to be intentional, [like] targeting historically Black colleges that have medical schools and starting rotational programs with them.”

~ Rachelle Daugherty, MPH, Chief Executive, PS&D

Offering diversity and inclusion training for physicians and other healthcare staff can help identify biases and teach clinicians how to adjust their practices to better serve patients who are different from themselves.

For example, Swedish’s LGBTQI+ Program, which was started by Dr. Kevin Wang when he was a resident at Swedish First Hill Family Medicine, shows the impact that prioritizing outcomes can have on diverse populations.

“During medical school and residency, I noticed we didn’t get much, if any, training on how to serve the LGBTQI+ patient population… In June 2019, a few colleagues and I presented a plan to Swedish leadership… And Swedish said, ‘Let’s go all in!’ Swedish made our initiative into a permanent program, which lives under Swedish Health Services’ newly formed Office of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” says Dr. Wang in an interview with PS&D.

This program shows how powerful it can be to bring diverse clinicians into your organization and allow them to champion progressive change.

4. Provide Relevant Opportunities and the Right Incentives for Your Physicians

This up-and-coming generation of clinicians coming out of medical school no longer expects to begin and end their careers in the same clinic or practice. Instead, they are prioritizing their personal and professional growth and development, and they are not afraid to seek those opportunities outside of their current role and organization.

To better retain physicians, it’s up to healthcare organizations to give their employees the right types of incentives and be proactive about providing opportunities that align with their goals.

Incentives in particular can be a challenge for healthcare organizations since most current incentive models are production-based. These systems inherently reward physicians and care teams for seeing as many patients as possible and doing as many procedures as possible, and while this may benefit the organization’s bottom line, it’s resulting in physician burnout and less effective patient care.

Healthcare organizations need to evaluate their current incentive programs and provide the alternative: a program that incentivizes patient outcomes and safety, as well as things like mentorship of residents and younger physicians.

When physicians are focused on the holistic treatment of their patients and not just how many tests they can run or procedures they can perform, the quality of care patients receive improves, and the overall health of the community is improved as a result.

Outside of incentives, physicians want opportunities that support their goals, both professionally and personally. They want training or research opportunities and the chance to continue their education. They want to work for an organization that helps them prioritize work-life balance with more generous PTO plans or sabbatical leave. And, most importantly, they want to feel like their healthcare organization understands them and is investing in their growth.

When physicians and other staff members feel like the organization cares, they’re more likely to put down roots and be more engaged. They are also more likely to become ambassadors and advocates for your organization, making it easier to recruit top physicians through referrals.

Watch the Webinar

Culture can be your healthcare organization’s greatest asset or its greatest weakness. While some health systems are making huge strides in building a supportive and inclusive culture, the industry as a whole has a lot of work to do to ensure physicians and APCs feel supported and heard in their workplace and communities.

Interested in learning more about how culture plays a role in boosting healthcare retention and recruitment? Watch our full webinar, How a Strong Organizational Culture Can Boost Healthcare Recruitment and Retention.