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How to Retain Physicians in Your Practice


Losing a disgruntled physician can mean diminished morale, with a possible huge loss of revenue.

physician retention

Physician retention can be challenging. When your day-to-day work relies on maintaining a partnership with other doctors, keeping a good team upholds quality patient care and preserves peace of mind for you. Investing in physician retention is well worth the time, effort, and money, whether you are a leader or a partner in a physician group.

Losing a disgruntled physician can mean diminished morale, with a possible huge loss of revenue. Reshuffling patients and rescheduling procedures is tricky. Some patients may become confused or distrustful and leave the practice. And the process of recruiting and onboarding a new physician is expensive.

Be honest about the work

There are some strategies you can use to promote physician retention—and prevent costly turnover that can eventually affect your practice reputation. In fact, even if a physician ultimately decides to leave for personal reasons, a harmonious exit can help preserve camaraderie within the remaining team for years to come.Physician retention begins with physician recruitment. When physicians consider joining a practice, they always ask about the workload and the type of patient care that is usually seen in the practice. Honesty is vital during the recruiting phase. A physician who anticipates a bread-and-butter community practice will be pleased to see patients who have manageable diseases. And a physician who expects high volume will be satisfied if long hours (and the matching compensation) are consistent with the job description.

Doctors are notoriously disappointed whenever the real job doesn’t match the advertised job. For example, if a physician candidate is told that a substantial portion of the patient population in the practice has complex medical conditions, disappointment is inevitable if complex referrals are rarely seen in the practice. And if a surgical specialist is recruited based on access to sophisticated equipment, it will be frustrating if it takes months to schedule patients who would benefit from the corresponding procedures.

Be respectful

It can be tempting to talk big when you are recruiting a physician—and you might see a more highly qualified pool of applicants if you bill your practice as the most cutting edge in town. But the resulting disillusionment and mistrust that can develop as the truth starts to unfold may cause your overqualified physician partner to look for a job elsewhere, ultimately leaving you back at square one. Many doctors are inherently respectful of colleagues. But treating other physicians with respect does not come naturally to everyone. It is important that you treat everyone with courtesy, taking each physician’s needs and opinions into consideration.

There are a number of factors that cause a physician to leave a practice, and disrespect is one of them. Lack of respect towards a physician partner can manifest in a number of ways: a skewed call schedule, an unfair financial arrangement, weak support staff allocation, undesirable workspace, and unresponsiveness in communicating. All of these problems can make a physician feel angry and dissatisfied, and may eventually lead to turnover.

Be present

While being disrespectful is bad enough in its own, it is even worse if respect is doled out selectively to the more difficult members of the group. For example, if those who seem like they might tolerate disregard for their concerns are treated worse than those who demand attention—the trend will be obvious to everyone, and overall morale will suffer—even among those who are highly valued in the practice. Listening and attentiveness go a long way. While it may not be necessary to talk frequently with each member of the group, being available—especially if you are the driving force behind setting the overall tone for the practice—will help create a pleasant workplace. For example, when a doctor wants to talk with leadership or with all partners about a flaw in the appointment scheduling process, a timely response can help solve the problem efficiently.

A physician who avoids conflict by beating around the bush about issues that need to be addressed will be seen as weak by partners, who may eventually decide to leave for a more professional setting. For example, if a group is having a hard time getting patient referrals due to a new insurance plan arrangement, physicians need to discuss the matter rather than brushing it under the rug.

Letting go

And if a less than competent doctor is avoiding exposure of their errors by bullying others into silence, the responsible leader needs to be available, or else the competent physicians will see the whole team as weak and unsustainable—and head straight for the door.Even in the best of circumstances, it isn’t always possible to maintain perfect physician retention. Doctors move for family reasons, financial motives, or a variety of other objectives, even when they love working with their partners.

When a physician leaves, it is always better for morale to avoid being secretive about the impeding transition. In fact, if physician candidates have a chance to speak with the doctor who is leaving, a positive attitude on the part of the departing physician can be a highly effective recruitment tool.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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