3 strategies for attracting and retaining top-notch physicians

Rapid changes in healthcare are causing private physician practices to re-examine how they manage key business operations, and one emerging area of focus is physician recruitment and retention. To remain competitive and viable long-term, independent practices need to revisit their approach to these activities and deploy the necessary strategies and resources to successfully grow the practice.

A different world
In the past, physicians sought out private practice because of the perceived opportunities the model offered for growth, financial return and flexibility. Today, however, many physicians coming out of training or seeking a mid-career change are looking more toward employed health system models.

This underscores the need for independent practices to create a robust recruitment strategy that responds to potential candidates’ diverse interests. For example, many physicians seek positions that carry moderate risk yet allow them to practice medicine in a rewarding environment while maintaining a work-life balance. Some are attracted to the prospect of earning an equity position and eventually influencing how the practice is run, but others may not want to take on business management responsibilities. Others still may desire freedom from the oversight constraints and corporate strategy adherence often associated with health system employment.

Strategies for success
As private practices work to enhance physician recruitment and retention amidst the physician exodus to other models, the following three strategies can boost efforts to attract and keep top-notch talent.

1. Create an operational recruitment plan. It is no longer realistic to merely delegate recruitment details to an administrative assistant or clinic manager. Intense competition for limited talent requires significant involvement of the practice leader, such as the CEO, president or owner, who can communicate the practice’s strategy, vision and values on the physicians’ level.

With leadership support in place, the practice should generate a strategy that considers recruits’ point of view and focuses on what candidates are looking for both professionally and personally. This requires aligning how the practice operates with what desirable candidates seek, such as work-life balance.

The strategy also should address how the practice uses technology, whether by leveraging information systems to improve efficiency and productivity or seeking out cutting-edge tools that enable patient-centered care. Younger physicians in particular are likely to want to work with practices that fully embrace technology and use it effectively to manage patient health.

Overall, a recruitment strategy should position the practice’s strengths from both the business and care perspectives, clearly communicating how the group functions day-to-day. More specifically, recruitment efforts should cover the practice’s business model, role of partners, care delivery model, commitment to outcomes management, population health management initiatives and so on.

2. Define a consistent tactical process for onsite visits. A well-defined recruitment method creates efficiency for the practice and the recruit and provides consistency across the endeavor, thus preventing the appearance of favoritism. This approach also communicates that the practice values the candidate’s time and truly wants him or her to join the team, ensuring equal footing with the other members of the group.

In some cases, a practice may need to consider outside recruiting resources if it lacks appropriate internal bandwidth. For example, some practices choose to partner with professional search firms; this can be an expensive option but often these companies are willing to negotiate price. In certain situations, practices can rely on an existing partnership with a health system where the system manages recruitment and relocation in exchange for future referral loyalty. Residency programs are a logical source for candidates; however, keep in mind these interviews should occur more than one year in advance of residency completion.

3. Create retention strategies that begin on Day One of employment. Once an individual decides to join a practice, physician engagement should not end but shift to retention strategies that keep the provider involved and happy. First and foremost, practice leaders must clearly understand a physician’s expectations as identified during the recruitment dialogue and make every effort to meet those expectations where reasonable. When the practice cannot accept certain conditions or things change, leadership must engage the physician proactively, explaining why expectations cannot be met and amending the agreement, if necessary.

Practice leaders can further strengthen retention when they commit to a positive culture and atmosphere. This may involve publicly and privately acknowledging the new physician’s contributions. It also requires openly communicating decisions to every member of the group, even if the news is not positive. While most physicians want to be involved in decision-making, at the very least, each needs to know what is going on in the practice so they can function as a reliable team member.

Looking long term
Independent practices must consider key strategic relationships with physicians as part of their business plan. However, the growing physician shortage combined with more physicians moving toward hospital employment means independent practices face tougher competition for a shrinking talent pool. To offset these challenges, physician groups must employ a robust recruitment and retention strategy that focuses on the long-term return on investment of attracting and keeping the right physicians.

Jerry Broderick is an executive management consultant at Culbert Healthcare Solutions, a professional services firm serving healthcare organizations in the areas of operations management, revenue cycle, clinical transformation and information technology.