Does the Great Resignation Have an Outsized Impact on the Business of Healthcare?

It might appear that the business sector most impacted by the Great Resignation phenomenon of 2021 is healthcare, with a high percentage of nurses, physicians and other providers reporting to be burned out, dissatisfied and considering a career change. But is COVID the cause? A new survey conducted in June and July 2021 by Jackson Physician Search in partnership with Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) suggests that physician satisfaction with their current employer — reported at an average of 5.5 on a scale of 0 to 10 — is less about the impacts of the pandemic and more about disconnects that can be solved, at least in part, by better communication. This and other insights around recruitment, retention and succession planning are available in a new whitepaper, Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover in Medical Practices, released today at the MGMA Medical Practice Excellence Leaders Conference.

“Successful business decisions begin by recognizing threats and opportunities, and the pandemic exposed many for healthcare organizations, so we’ve seen a rapid and sustained increase in the number of physicians actively looking for new jobs,” said Tony Stajduhar, president of Jackson Physician Search. “But what we’re learning is that post-COVID business recovery actually requires making the experience of being a doctor better for physicians. Recognizing the all-consuming nature of practicing medicine and considering physicians as partners versus employees are where it starts.”

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Sixty eight percent of administrators and 61% of physicians confirm that physicians are experiencing burnout. Of those, 62% of physicians reported burnout as being caused by their current employer (versus being caused by the experience of being a physician), while only 14% of administrators recognized their role in physician burnout.

Physicians are clear: they want to be heard

Interestingly, only 25% of physicians attributed physician burnout to COVID-related stress, while 37% of administrators attributed it to COVID. That sense of disconnect between physicians and administrators is reflected elsewhere in the data, particularly around the perceived effectiveness of communication.

“Administrators point to many different conditions that would address physician burnout, like having better clinical support, boosting compensation and lowering administrative burdens,” said Dr. Halee Fischer-Wright, CEO of MGMA. “However, far and away, two-way communication with management and administrators is cited by physicians as the most important factor in keeping them satisfied in their current position.”

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Succession planning is a critical need

Considering the chronic physician shortage, practices can’t afford not to plan for succession. However, according to the survey, 67% of administrators reported not having a succession plan, with only 16% answering in the affirmative. For those who do have a plan in place, existing succession plans focused on recruitment to replace retiring physicians and transitioning others to part-time roles.

“The takeaway for administrators is to step back from the day-to-day long enough to look at longer time horizons; consider the impacts of growth, retirement and other transitions; and put a plan in place that acknowledges the realities of their practices and practice requirements,” explained Stajduhar. “The whitepaper Getting Ahead of Physician Turnover in Medical Practices lays out a strategy for administrators to consider in building both a long- and short-term succession plan for physicians to minimize the impacts on patient care.”

Improving physician recruiting efforts presents a great opportunity

Once a succession plan has been developed, administrators will be better equipped to recruit physicians, another area in need of alignment based on the study’s results. Administrators rated their organizations’ physician recruitment strategies at 7.0, much higher than physicians rated efforts at 4.8, on a scale of 0 to 10.

“Right now, there is an opportunity for growth in how physicians are recruited,” said Dr. Fischer-Wright. “Typically, physician recruiting takes place over a lengthy time, requires a strong fit of both skill and culture, and is a significant financial investment. Creating a high performance recruiting program is a critical next step for administrators.”

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