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What Every Medical Practice Should do When a Physician Leaves


Turnover is an important topic that medical practices discuss, but often changes to curb attrition don’t happen until it’s too late.

"What’s the turnover like at this practice?" That's a question that I hear over and over again as a physician recruiter. And the candidates don’t want to hear about the excuses or extenuating circumstances; they just want the turnover numbers and make their own impressions from there. 

When physician candidates hear of high turnover numbers, it immediately sends up a red flag. And if the physician network is a small one; the candidates will ask questions of their peers and colleagues who are familiar with the practice. If the candidates hear of negative experiences (regardless of whether or not they're relevant to the candidate specifically), they will walk away.

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Whenever a practice loses a provider, no matter the reason, I strongly recommend conducting an exit interview with the departing physician. Whenever possible, you should have this interview conducted by the individual most likely to elicit an honest response. All too often a provider will focus on leaving on "good terms" and won't be truthful about his reasons for resigning. If you have the option to have a member of human resources or a manager that didn't work so directly with the provider conduct the interview, you should strive for that pairing.

Then, make sure to use the information collected in the interview. Don't become defensive or offended by negative feedback; this provider is leaving and there's nothing you can do about it. But if you can have an unemotional response to the feedback and strain out any exaggerated information, you will be left with data that can help you prevent other providers from walking out the door.

To illustrate this, I'd like to share a story that is outside of the healthcare field, but nonetheless relevant. A friend of mine was an attorney at a large firm and left his position to take another.  He left because of inappropriate internal conduct and conversation, unfair decisions, and a horrible gossip problem that led to tumultuous "office politics."

His supervisor asked the important questions during the exit interview and covered everything as expected.  He asked, "What could have changed to make you stay?" My friend was honest and gave his candid feedback, knowing it would likely be difficult for his supervisor to hear. Instead of taking the feedback in the spirit in which it was given, or saving it to reflect on and discuss later, his supervisor immediately said, "I don’t see that or agree with you, so it must just be a bad culture fit for you." 

Because this supervisor, and others in the firm, refused to accept the problems with their culture, four more attorneys have followed in my friend's footsteps. And all five of them, and who knows how many others, have shared their stories with colleagues, clients, etc.

The firm continues to lose staff members and clients steadily, while finding increasing difficulty in securing quality candidates for even initial interviews.

With the physician recruitment market becoming more and more difficult every day, hiring managers can’t afford to just look the other way when a physician points out issues with the practice.  As practice leaders, you have to check your ego at the door and want to make changes. 

Most people say they can handle constructive criticism, but then are in denial about what constructive criticism is; instead of taking negative feedback to heart, they make excuses such as, "That doctor is just a Negative Nancy" or, "They're just making a fuss because they don't want to follow the rules."

As practice leaders, we need to stop thinking that way and look at it as a positive: Your providers are telling you what you can do to make your environment better, increase retention, and grow your business. Sure, you sometimes have to take things with a grain of salt, but you make a huge mistake when you throw all the feedback out the window and refuse to believe that it might actually be you with the problem, not them. 

Try to pull on the attitude you have toward your patients. When you get calls from patients complaining about your service, do you tell them, "It’s not us, it’s you"?  I would hardly think so. Instead, I imagine that you see how you can make things better.  So do the same within your practice!

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