Plan to Prevent New Physician Turnover at Your Practice

April 24, 2013

Physicians are most vulnerable to turnover and voluntary departure during the first years in practice. Here’s how to avoid this common pitfall.

Physicians in the first years of practice have the highest turnover rates overall, and turnover peaks between years two and three. But if you can retain new physicians for at least five years, they are more likely to stay for the long-haul. So what can a practice do to get their physicians to that five-year mark? It comes down to a combination of planning for what you can’t control, and changing what you can.

Plan for what you can’t control
The main cause for early turnover is often outside the control of a medical practice. Relocation and family responsibilities consistently top the list of reasons for voluntary departures cited by physicians. With the rise of integration and consolidation of healthcare, more and more physicians are becoming employed by large health systems. It’s easier for physicians to move when practicing in an employed model than when in private practice, in which they may be more personally and financially invested.

This trend is compounded by a rise in two-physician couples. Retention can be a challenge if a physician accepts a job while his or her spouse is still in training. Upon graduation, the couple may relocate to an area with personal ties. Moreover, physicians emerging from training are making a big transition; as in any other career path. They may not know what they value in a job until they experience it.

Control what you can
The biggest controllable factor driving early turnover is lack of cultural fit, which also influences job satisfaction. There are three essential steps to make sure your new hires are compatible with your practice environment and will be successful:

1. Screen for fit. Use behavioral interviewing to gauge whether a candidate’s motivations, values, and past actions are compatible with the organization’s mission and goals. Find candidates who will fit in and support your practice culture.
2. Onboard. Effective onboarding increases physician engagement and helps reinforce positive cultural norms. Formalized programs with written guidelines and goals, assigned mentors, and adequate time allocation are key to retaining new hires.
3. Provide for flexibility and professional growth. Physicians in the first years after training may be busy building their practice, but it’s important to help them envision a compatible and satisfying future in your practice. Even though their needs may change, offering a long-term vision of their career at your practice gives new physicians a strong motivation to stay for the long term.

Have you fine-tuned your interview process to maximize retention of new hires? Key questions related to cultural fit help you determine a candidate’s motivation for selecting an opportunity and assessing their potential fit with your practice.

David Cornett is Senior Executive Vice President at Cejka Search, a nationally recognized physician, health care executive, advanced practice and allied health search firm providing services exclusively to the health care industry for more than 30 years. E-mail him here.