How to tell when a doctor is about to jump ship

November 21, 2019

Three red-flags a doctor is about to quit.

A combination of soaring job dissatisfaction rates, a nationwide physician shortage, and the ease of finding other opportunities, means that many organizations across the United States are struggling with high doctor turnover. Gone are the days when a freshly graduated doctor straight out of residency, would join a small private practice (or better still, start one of their own) and serve a grateful community for their whole career. 

In this new world of corporate medicine, physicians who are employees, will act like employees (and that’s not meant in a derogatory way, it’s just the natural way of the world). Having said that, if you’re a hospital or practice administrator struggling with turnover, here are 3 red-flag signs for you to spot before your next doctor quits:

Hear the whispers

Prior to most physicians actually submitting their resignation, you will usually hear rumors that Dr. X is unhappy for some reason or another. Whatever the issue is- a system problem, a schedule conflict, pay etc-take the whispers seriously. A good time perhaps to sit down and talk with that physician.

The complaints

They may well have already come to you, or another administrator, to voice their concerns about a particular problem. They may even have spoken to you a number of times, and it's clearly a simmering volcano. Is it something that can be addressed.

Withdrawing

This is probably the most worrying sign. A doctor who was previously very involved with committee meetings, improvement projects, and other organizational activities, may drastically cut back or completely stop these non-clinical commitments. They are mentally checking out of the organization, which for them can be cathartic.

The point is this: physicians who leave organizations, do so for a reason, and usually there are multiple clues that they’re unhappy. Whether these problems are solvable (or even reasonable in the first place) is a case-by-case judgment call. But if you’re an administrator worried about high turnover at your institution and want to reverse the ship, you may want to note the above 3 warning signs.

Suneel Dhand MD is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the cofounder of DocsDox (www.DocsDox.com), a service that helps physicians find local moonlighting and per diem opportunities, bypassing the expensive middleman.