Proven Methods for Promoting Employee Retention in Healthcare
Keeping doctors on staff is a growing challenge. Learn 5 physician retention efforts that are working in today's complex job market.
August 31, 2023
When doctors leave their jobs, it affects every patient they have. It also impacts their practice or health system, disrupting day-to-day operations and leading to a loss in productivity and profits.
Between a well-documented physician shortage and dire burnout levels, health systems are feeling the pinch when it comes to attrition. Healthcare executives are left to wonder: How can we keep the physicians and advanced practice clinicians we have? And how can we make our practices, hospitals and health systems places where doctors want to work and stay?
One of the biggest culprits is physician burnout — a stress reaction of emotional exhaustion, lack of empathy and a decreased sense of personal achievement. According to a Deloitte survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers, 46% of clinicians reported high levels of burnout, 35% said their burnout is modest and only 19% reported no or minimal burnout. The fallout has a cascading effect: patient confidence erodes — seven in 10 patients are concerned staffing shortages may affect their health, and healthcare systems lose up to $1.7 billion annually from turnover, lost productivity and medical errors.
And yet a National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare paper urges healthcare leaders to “change the dialogue around burnout, from one that sees burnout as a personal psychological failing to acknowledgement of a system in distress. Through this reframing, shift the aim from burnout prevention to a system that supports resilience, well-being and joy.” It concludes that a “change must occur at all levels within organizations and cascade across all decisions related to people, processes and technology.”
At Provider Solutions & Development (PS&D), we recruit physicians and advanced practice clinicians for Providence, PS&D’s founder and the largest health system in the West, as well as more than 35 other health systems across the country.
We help our partners combat shortages and burnout every day, specializing in finding providers who are a long-term fit for your practice or organization. Through holistic, provider-centered recruiting, we help practices, medical groups, hospitals and health systems reach their staffing goals, keeping both success and retention in mind.
“Hiring for retention begins with that very first point of contact. It’s essential to be transparent, right from the beginning,” says Shannon Shea, PS&D recruitment manager.
“We make sure the candidate knows exactly what the role is, what the expectations are, and what the areas of flexibility are. We tell the truth about the job up front so physicians don’t lose trust and aren’t blindsided or ultimately overwhelmed by their workloads.”
In addition to transparency, there are five expert insights that can help your clinic or health system hire and retain top-tier talent.
~ Shannon Shea, Recruitment Manager, PS&D
Five Methods for Improving Employee Retention in Healthcare
There are many ways to retain your providers on large and small levels, ranging from infrastructure to interpersonal. Take a deeper look at ways you can improve your healthcare employee retention.
1. Evaluate and Improve Your Compensation Practices
Don’t underestimate the power of pay. Ensure your organization’s compensation packages are competitive and that your providers are happy with them. The same Deloitte study shows only half of all providers are satisfied with their compensation package, 44% of frontline clinicians are satisfied with their compensation and just 51% are satisfied with their benefits.
Consider performing analyses that assess how your organization compares to industry and regional benchmarks, along with other organizations in your geographical area — and be sure to adjust for cost-of-living. The same paycheck can feel very different if you’re living in in upstate New York versus New York City. Don’t forget to look at indirect competitors, such as Walgreens, Kroger and medical research organizations.
Review the full scope of your providers’ job responsibilities and everything they should be compensated for, including clinical, administrative, research and teaching duties, and update your benchmarks annually.
Budgets are tight, so it’s important to keep in mind that better compensation packages don’t always have to mean more money. You can get creative as you diversify your compensation packages, giving your employees incentives beyond salary and traditional benefits:
- Offer gratitude or wellness days as a reward or incentive in the form of extra PTO.
- Fully pay or subsidize access to well-being resources, like therapy, meditation, yoga classes, gym memberships, etc.
- Provide a retention bonus for healthcare workers who remain in your organization, potentially scaling up by year.
Consider a value-based care model. Many hospitals have adopted this model, and studies of these value-based care programs suggest they can reduce overall costs and improve quality of care, boosting the health of your organization, your patients and patient satisfaction levels.
2. Streamline Administrative Tasks
Administrative tasks are a long-standing provider pain point. Electronic health records (EHR) are time-consuming and tedious, making them a great place to start optimizing day-to-day work routines for healthcare employee retention.
Physicians spend almost half of each day on EHR, both in and out of patient appointments. And a majority of physicians give those systems a grade of “F” for technology usability, according to a 2019 nationwide study by the American Medical Association.
“The administrative burden is very real for providers,” Shannon says. “Sometimes the setup doesn’t make sense. It’s just not that intuitive, and providers can get bogged down in it. For example, you might have to make 10 clicks to get to something simple you need to do every day.”
What should be a convenience is an impediment, and from a provider’s perspective, these administrative inefficiencies keep them away from where they should be — with their patients.
There are several ways you can improve and alleviate EHR processes:
- Reassign EHR duties as much as you can. Work with your IT department or EHR vendor to transfer notification of admission, discharge and transfers from physician inboxes to those of a case manager.
- Train your staff. Get your whole staff on the same page — especially those less familiar with the tool — with a comprehensive understanding of how to use the EHR. This will help reduce IT tickets, ensure record accuracy and help doctors feel more confident using the tool.
- Revamp your digital setup. Work with your IT department or EHR vendor to optimize the digital workflow. Reconfigure screens, reports, login requirements, alerts, templates and more so your team can function more efficiently. Something as simple as giving providers wider monitors can reduce clicks, saving time.
3. Prioritize Consistency for Employees and Their Families
Even in an unpredictable field like healthcare, employees want a consistent schedule. A more reliable schedule allows providers to show up as the best versions of themselves, not just for them, but also for their families.
Scheduling is a stress point for providers, but there are many ways to increase consistency:
- Try out self-scheduling. Give your providers autonomy to control when they work and how much overtime they choose to take on. A study published by Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians Open found that, even when the number of shift changes stayed more or less the same, physician satisfaction remained very high with a self-scheduling system.
- Make scheduling more flexible. Consider staggered start times, overlapping shifts or job sharing to meet the needs of healthcare workers juggling work and life.
- Improve demand predictions. Most events that drive patient volume can be anticipated, like holidays and weather events. Factor these in to ensure you’re staffed properly without having to call providers in. Consider using workforce management systems with AI and machine learning to predict patient influx patterns.
Your providers’ families are also essential when you consider scheduling. According to PS&D’s 2022 Consumer Insights Report, 58% of providers ranked “family” as their number one priority. But for working parents, affordable childcare options are difficult to find.
About a third of U.S. hospitals offer childcare benefits, and yet they vary widely. Some hospitals do not provide backup care for last-minute complications and even with hospitals that have a full-time, on-site daycare, there’s a long wait list.
This is an opportunity to set yourself apart from your competitors and offer comprehensive childcare solutions. In addition to an on-site daycare, consider subsidizing daycare as a benefit.
When employees feel support for their families and have a more predictable schedule, it boosts morale, builds trust and increases retention.
4. Engage and Encourage Your Staff
A little recognition goes a long way. When your providers are on the front lines, they’re experiencing the practice at its fullest — the highs and lows. When you recognize their efforts, it builds community and morale.
A Gallup poll found that only 18% of healthcare workers are in organizations that recognize their workers and teams, which is lower than the national average of 22%. The same poll found that those who do work in a culture of recognition are 3.9 times more likely to feel connected to the culture of their organization. Teams in these organizations experience less stress and a stronger sense of teamwork, and the organizations report higher patient satisfaction levels.
Small gestures are great forms of recognition. Some simple strategies include:
- Giving one-on-one praise to frontline healthcare workers, so the recognition is personalized.
- Rewarding employees with appreciation gifts, such as gift cards, experiences and even benefits like flexible working hours or professional development opportunities.
- Featuring and promoting top performers or long-time employees on social media to push the recognition outside your organization.
Don’t forget to ask your providers for input. High-quality feedback from your employees not only prevents further workforce constraints, it allows your employees to feel heard and respected.
There are many sources that contribute to your employees’ job fatigue, and directly engaging with them is an opportunity to hear straight from them what’s working and what’s not. Once you've received and digested feedback, it's imperative that changes are made. Present an actionable plan and follow through on it within a clear and public timeframe.
By engaging and encouraging your employees on a more personal level and taking steps to address concerns, you show that you value your providers. This allows you to create an environment where they will be more invested not only in their jobs, but in your organization.
5. Hire for Fit, Not to Fill
Good recruiting is the foundation for retention. With a provider shortage and critical roles sitting vacant, it can be tempting to sign the first qualified candidate instead of finding the right fit. But this results in a costly short-term solution, and it’s highly likely you’ll need to reopen the position due to turnover.
First impressions are critical, setting the tone and expectations for your hires and laying the groundwork for a good fit on both sides.
“When recruiters really know their hiring partners well, they understand the needs and the culture of the clinic,” Shannon says. “PS&D does this really well, because we take the time to get to know the nuances of what it’s really like to work at the clinics and hospitals we recruit for.
“For example, one of our recruiters finds candidates for multiple Providence Primary Care clinics in the Portland, Oregon, metro area. Each clinic has a different feel — a different culture. She knows there will be some clinics where a doctor will be a natural fit and others where they probably won’t be happy long-term. She’s able to steer them toward the right match because she knows each clinic so well. It works, because she also takes the time to find out what matters to each candidate, professionally as well as personally.”
When you hire the right fit, you’re gaining a long-standing employee and a long-term solution. Working with recruiters and asking potential hires questions that inform you about their values, habits and behaviors can help you hire providers aligned with your organization’s culture. It takes patience and diligence to find the ideal provider for your opening, but it will pay off in the long run.
Lastly, don’t forget that often, you’re recruiting a whole family. During interviews and site visit, invite family members to tour the facility and the surrounding area. Also consider a list of relevant resources and amenities for their loved ones to show that you value them and their family too.
Find the Right Fit with PS&D
PS&D hires with long-term solutions and employee retention in mind. We tailor our processes to your organization’s values, culture and location.
“As recruiters, I think the big thing is we’re not paid commission, and we’re not motivated to just make a placement. That matters a lot in how we interact with providers,” says Kyle Travers, PS&D recruitment manager. “We’re not trying to steer people into roles that we don’t think are going to be the right fit for them. We do not push to say, ‘Oh, let’s just get a candidate in the door.’”
When a new or existing partner reaches out with a role, a PS&D recruiter works with them to gain a strong understanding of the job, the organization, the culture and more. Our goal is placing the right candidate with the right organization.
Partner with us for personalized support in reaching your recruitment goals.
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