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Attract millennials to offset the looming physician shortage


A projected physician shortage means it’s time to appeal to the new crop of docs.

There is a looming physician shortage that will impact virtually everyone-and no clear solution on the horizon. The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates a shortfall of between 42,000 and 120,000 physicians by the year 2030. Finding a doctor is expected to be difficult for patients across the country. Primary care practices, in particular, will struggle to attract new talent.

The underlying issues of an aging population and declining public health are not simple fixes. Nor is the growing burnout rate, lower non-specialist pay, rising administrative costs, and an increasingly complicated healthcare landscape. However, gaining a better understanding of what drives young or early career physicians will help private practices and hospital administrators prepare for the next generation of talent. Here are three things healthcare organizations can start doing to recruit and retain millennial doctors:


Focus on culture and purpose in the work environment

In a recent early career survey from CompHealth, a majority of millennial doctors indicated that organizational culture elements were the most influential when looking for employment. Millennial doctors want good work-life balance (63 percent), culture fit (60 percent), and location (60 percent) at their jobs. Compensation was important (49 percent), but it was not the critical determining factor.

In other words, attracting and retaining young physicians won’t come by simply raising salaries. As a millennial doctor myself, I can emphasize that my generation wants our work to be driven by purpose. This is especially true for the practice of medicine, where “punching the clock” has never really been a part of the description. When millennials set the tone that their work is more than just a job, companies that reinforce positive culture and emphasize work-life balance will have a leg up when it comes to recruiting and retention.

If employers want to attract and keep young doctors-and, as the shortage ramps up, retention will become crucial-they need to focus on a positive culture and purpose-driven work. Not only will this appeal to millennials’ career aspirations, but organizations will realize significant benefits when their employees are happy, such as increased engagement and decreased burnout. Both of which lead to lower turnover rates, happier employees, and higher revenue. In other words, a work enviornment that all physicians benefit from.


Enable others to pursue outside passions

Millennials are notorious for job-hopping, which could be tied to our well-known predilection for wanting experiences over possessions. While those of us who spent more than a decade in school are probably going to stick with our chosen field, we are also more likely to try building a multifaceted career by pursuing outside passions.

Practicing medicine is not just my chosen career, it is also one of my passions. I studied osteopathic medicine in West Virginia and then trained in family practice in New Jersey and Connecticut. I’ve also had the opportunity to contract as a locum tenens physician, which has allowed me to work with Native Americans in Nevada, military veterans in Louisiana, and refugees in Washington.

Along with medicine, I have other passions. I have a driving interest in the culinary arts. As an osteopathic doctor, I understand that a person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit. That’s why I also attended culinary school to study health-supportive and plant-based food. For me, the chronic disease burden has been too overwhelming to our healthcare system, and I wanted to add a fresh perspective to my experiences. Therefore, the study of food and nutrition was the obvious choice. This combination of training and immersion-together with my own life experiences-inspired me to combine these passions into a unified approach to health: food as medicine and part of an overall conscientious lifestyle.


Explore new avenues and offer new experiences

In medical school and residency, I saw how easy it was for physicians to get inundated with work beyond patient care. That’s not to say that administrative tasks aren’t important, but when a doctor has to spend more time on paperwork than patients, it becomes frustrating on all sides of the experience. Providing essential wellness must be more involved than a quick office visit and writing a prescription. It requires one-on-one coaching and careful attention.

Millennial physicians are going to pursue multifaceted careers. As millennials move into leadership roles, we’ll work to find greater engagement from all staff members. We’re going to make operational decisions that allow employees of all ages to consider outside interests. Twentysomethings and thirtysomethings are certainly not the only people who have outside interests. It’s been my experience that when those outside interests are known and encouraged, they help create happier employees. They also provide rich conversations and unforeseen opportunities to improve care.

Before I finished my residency, I discovered locum tenens work. I work with interesting people in different locations across the United States. This helps me stay excited about the practice of medicine and gives me avenues to learn new things about the medical field, the country, and myself. Locum tenens is not always an option for everyone, but organizations can still keep millennial physicians engaged by helping to broaden their perspectives and experiences.

Enabling young doctors to continue their education, develop specializations, and pursue other interests will benefit organizations, employees, and ultimately patients. dministrators should consider arranging visits from outside experts and coordinating schedules to allow time to attend classes and conferences.

As millennial physicians continue to develop their own careers and as the physician shortage deepens, offering new avenues and experiences could be a critical stepping stone for doctors and a valuable recruiting strategy for healthcare organizations.

Society associates millennials with negative connotations like entitlement and selfishness, but I beg to differ. My generation is known for our tech savvy, flexibility, and eagerness to produce results. We crave constant feedback and seek out continuous opportunities to improve. We find culture to be a greater attraction than compensation, look for new experiences in life, and want to pursue passions outside of our chosen fields.

As more doctors cut back their hours or plan to retire, practices and hospital administrators will need to look in new directions to increase retention among young doctors. Keeping talented people within the practice of medicine will ultimately benefit everyone. Organizations that build strong cultures by providing career opportunities and encouraging people to pursue outside passions will be more likely to attract and keep millennial physicians. 

Colin Zhu, DO, is a traveling physician who is board certified in family practice and lifestyle medicine. He has practiced as a CompHealth locum tenens physician for the past four years. Zhu is the author of "Thrive Medicine: How To Cultivate Your Desires and Elevate Your Life” and is a podcast host of Thrive Bites

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